Special Report: The Cameron Ferry

Special Report - The Cameron Ferry

CAMERON, LA (KPLC) - Is it open or closed? The status of the Ferry in Cameron Parish is constantly changing and many are fed up with the unreliable ferry.

Wendell Wilkerson owns a transportation company and says he’s been on the receiving end of these inconveniences for years.

“This ferry’s a real thorn in my side," Wilkerson, owner of Wilkerson Transportation, said. “There’s no dependability on it. I have trucks that have to cross that every day. We get notifications and on a weekly basis it’s two or three times."

But what’s leading to these temporary closures?

Cameron Parish Administrator Ryan Bourriaque says its the age of the ferry.

“It’s over 50 years old," Bourriaque said. "We were told by the Department of Transportation and Development that the useful life of this ferry was around 30 years.”

So 20 years past its prime the ferry’s age means constant maintenance and repairs. When that’s underway, expect a closure.

When the ferry is closed due to maintenance what would have been less than a five-minute ferry ride turns in to a two-hour commute.

Drivers would have to go up La. 27 through Lake Charles to Sulphur, and down 27 through Hackberry.

“Any interruption in our day is never welcomed regardless of what it is how small how large," Bourriaque said. "What we’ve tried to do from a local perspective over the last 4 or 5 years is really get creative and figure out ways to resolve the issue.”

Replacing the ferry is top priority.

Kevin Reed, Maintenance Management Administrator with the Department of Transportation, says it all comes down to a lack of funding. The estimated cost of a new ferry is roughly $16 to $18 million, saying a grant is the only way a new ferry would be possible.

“One thing that the parish has done, in July of 2018, we applied for one of President Trump’s infrastructure programs," Bourriaque said. "The Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development or the build grant. We applied for an eighteen million dollar federal grant for a new ferry.”

But their request was denied.

Bourriaque says that can’t be then end all be all of the discussion.

Port Director Clair Marceaux believes there are enough people traveling through Cameron Parish to legitimize the need for a new ferry and Cameron Parish Sheriff Ron Johnson agrees.

“We’re fixing to be the LNG capitol of the world but because of this system, the ferry system, we sometimes can’t event make it across the river,” Johnson said.

Bourriaque isn’t giving up hope yet.

“This was the first round of this funding and so we have already scheduled a debriefing with the staff and the United states Department of Transportation to understand where deficiencies were in the grant application," Bourriaque said. "Understand what we can do to approve it.”

As for a bridge or other alternative to a ferry, the same issue prevails. A lack of funding.

Reed tells 7News a project is scheduled to start in 2020 that would repair some parts of the ferry.

“Those are the components that create the most significant amount of down time," Reed said. "The intent of this project is to improve the reliability and improve the redundancy of those systems.”

That project will cost roughly $2.5 million.

Reed says it’s the best they can do with what they have.

Until that project is complete or funding is granted, we’re told those traveling through Cameron Parish can expect the same inconveniences.

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