HRT hosts christening ceremony for new ferry

Photo courtesy: The Department of Economic Development for Hampton Roads

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Hampton Roads residents who commute to Portsmouth or Norfolk will soon be able to set sail on HRT’s new ferry.

The cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth welcomed residents to the Norfolk Waterside Dock Friday as they officially christened their new 150-passenger ferry.

Hampton Roads Transit named the new vessel the Elizabeth River Ferry IV.

There are currently three other ferries that run between Norfolk and Portsmouth, but they require costly repairs, making them too expensive to maintain, according to HRT. The James C. Echols, constructed in 1982, the Elizabeth River Ferry II, built in 1986, and the Elizabeth River Ferry III, built in 1990, all need continual repairs to keep them in compliance with United States Coast Guard regulations.

The new ferry is part of a $7 million contract to eventually replace the entire fleet of three. This comes after a $4.4 million grant awarded to HRT in 2014 to replace an Elizabeth River ferry and improve the transit system.

The Elizabeth River Ferry IV is said to have tinted windows to reduce water glare, greater fuel efficiency, a cleaner running set of Volvo engines and a “drive-by-wire” design that relies far more on electronics than the earlier vessels.

According to HRT, captains will have more room in the pilothouse, and the ferry has two-man hatches on the port and starboard sides that allow faster loading and unloading. The older ferries have one, which delays major events because the ferry has to unload all passengers and then load them up again.

The number of passengers who use the ferry service has increased heavily in the last few months. Over 67,000 riders set sail in June — about 22,000 more riders than June of last year.

Several elected officials from Norfolk and Portsmouth are scheduled to attend the christening, including City Councilman Martin Thomas, Jr., Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe and Portsmouth City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton.

“The Elizabeth River Ferry is the most convenient, enjoyable way to go from Downtown Norfolk to Olde Towne Portsmouth and beyond,” said William Harrell, president and CEO of Hampton Roads Transit. “We are excited to receive the new ferry boats and look forward to running the oldest continuous ferry service in the country.”

For more information on HRT ferry services, visit