service has been a part of the Texas transportation system since the 19th
century when the skiff, The Tarpon, began operating from Galveston
Island. Later, two barges plied between Port Bolivar and Galveston. These
early operations were commercial ventures and only made the trip when they
had paying customers. There were no published or regularly scheduled operations.
In 1929 the first regularly scheduled
ferry service between Port Bolivar and Galveston Island was established
by a privately owned company. At the end of 1929 the company sold its two
ferries to Galveston County and the county operated the ferry service for
about 6 months. Galveston County petitioned the state to operate the ferries
and then sold the two vessels to the State of Texas in April 1930.
The first ferry operated by the State
of Texas left Port Bolivar on July 1, 1934. Texas operated the ferry service
toll-free for approximately six months, but the service was so popular
that Galveston County officials asked the state to impose a 25 cent charge
to reduce traffic congestion. The 25 cent toll continued, except for a
brief experimental period in 1934, until 1949. Since then, the ferry operation
has been operated as a toll-free service.
In 1967 a second operation began
providing ferry service across the Corpus Christi Ship Channel between
Port Aransas and Harbor Island. Prior to becoming part of the state service,
the ferry was operated on a fee basis by Nueces County.
The ferry port facilities, staging
areas and visitor facilities were reconstructed in 1977 and upgraded again
The peak months for ferry use are
June, July and August. Throughout the year, more than 8 million people
use the TxDOT ferry system. The greatest number of passengers carried on
a single day was July 3, 1994 when 43,472 people boarded Galveston Island
to Port Bolivar ferries. The most vehicles transported on a single day
occurred a year earlier on July 4, 1993 when 12,733 vehicles were carried.
Galveston Island to Port Bolivar
The Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry
is the bridge between two segments of State Highway 87. South of IH-10,
State Highway 87 is the only highway around Galveston Bay. The free ferry
service provided by TxDOT is the only way motorists can cross the waterway
between Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island.
The ferry service is critical to
the residents of Bolivar Peninsula when a hurricane threatens. The ferries
are the primary means of evacuation through Galveston to the causeway and
the mainland. Ferries continue crossing the channel until high winds and
tides make their mission unsafe. The boats are then secured in their moorings
at the Galveston landing facility.
The 2.7 mile trip takes approximately
18 minutes to cross one of the busiest waterways in the world. Through
the Bolivar Roads Channel flows the commerce of the Port of Houston, the
nations largest inland port, as well as other Galveston and Trinity Bay
communities. Approximately 7,000 ships visit the Port of Houston each year.
The ferry operation consists of five
boats, each of which can carry approximately 70 vehicles, 500 passengers
and six crewmembers. Each ferry is capable of carrying eight 18-wheel trucks
weighing 80,000 pounds each. All of the boats are double-ended with a pilothouse
on each end, and the Captain changes from one pilothouse to the other to
go in the opposite direction.
The Gibb Gilchrist is a traditionally
powered and steered vessel. The R.C. Lanier, D.C. Greer,
Stoker, Jr. and R.H. Dedman, the four newest ferries, employ
a "cycloidal propulsion" system. Instead of conventional propellers and
rudders, power is obtained from two vertical cycloidal propulsors, one
at each end of the boat. This technology allows the ferry to make 360 degree
turns or to move sideways with no forward or backward movement. It also
allows the Captain to make quicker stops or slow the vessel much more rapidly
than conventionally propelled boats.
All of the boats are named after
former Texas Transportation Commission members except the Gibb Gilchrist.
Mr. Gilchrist was the State Highway Engineer twice during his career with
Between 1994 and 1996, additional
maintenance and mooring facilities were built and the public rest areas
were completely rehabilitated. Secure, lighted parking facilities were
also provided on both sides for passengers who wish to walk aboard.
Hours of Operation
The Ferry runs 24 hours. This is
a free service.