Thursday, May 21, 2009

VDOT Should Not Be Running Quaint Tourist Attractions

The Virginia Department of Transportation has announced budget cuts that will result in the closing of several highway rest stops and a reduction in force of as many as 750 workers. VDOT has also announced that it will close the Hatton Ferry on the James River near Scottsville.

While the loss of jobs -- especially productive ones -- is unfortunate, the closing of the rest stops (which are mostly in Northern Virginia, with an abundance of gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants close by the interstates) and the Hatton Ferry are sensible decisions that are long overdue.

I want to focus on the Hatton Ferry, which is nothing more than a quaint tourist attraction. The government has no business running quaint tourist attractions. That is something best left to the private sector.

The Hatton Ferry, in fact, was once run privately. The government socialized it in the last century. The Daily Progress explains:

VDOT bought the ferry in the 1980s and pays a contractor to ferry cars across the river on weekends from mid-April through mid-October.

By stopping the ferry service, VDOT would save an estimated $21,000 per year. The cut would go into effect July 1.

The Hatton Ferry is a historic relic of a bygone era, said Margaret O’Bryant, librarian of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society. “I’m very sorry to hear about this,” she said.

O’Bryant pointed out that the Hatton Ferry is one of only two pole-driven ferries still in operation in the United States.

Ferries played an important role along the James River, going back to the days of the European settlers, she said. The Hatton Ferry, O’Bryant added, has a long and fascinating history of its own.

In 1972, the ferry was destroyed by Hurricane Agnes, but a new one was built by the Department of Highways and dedicated in September 1973 with the help of Richard Thomas, star of TV’s “The Waltons.”

The newly built ferry was sunk and destroyed again in 1985 when the James River flooded. The following year, VDOT launched a sturdier metal ferry.

The historical society has championed the Hatton Ferry for decades. The organization has built a kiosk on the site and renovated the operator’s building so it appears as it did in the late 1800s.

“It comes as a big shock and a big disappointment,” said Steven Meeks, president of the historical society.
If the Hatton Ferry really has value, then the historical society will be able to arrange to buy it and run it privately. It should not be the responsibility of the government, and thus a burden to taxpayers.

As Governor Tim Kaine is fond of saying, "If you can find it in the Yellow Pages, maybe government shouldn't be doing it." I agree.

"Relics of a bygone era" surely meet that test, and the government lacks the moral and political authority to own them or operate them. VDOT deserves credit for making the right decision.

Read my blog on Kindle!


Anonymous said...

You may want to visit the ferry sometime. In the very near future!

Anonymous said...

Now if only Tim Kaine could close the ABC stores.

Rick Sincere said...

I've been in favor of privatizing the ABC system for many years. It was one of the recommendations of the Wilder Commission appointed by Governor Warner.

But the General Assembly refuses to end this socialistic, non-essential function of government.

This is an election year. Every candidate for the House of Delegates should be asked if he/she supports privatizing the ABC. If the answer is no, ask why not.

This is the 21st century. We should be leaving this Prohibition-era structure far behind us, along with buggy whips and 1830s-era ferries.