Passenger ferry route between Cleveland and Ontario likely

In this March 27, 2009 file photo, the Marine Atlantic ferry MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood heads through ice as …Ontarians with a hankering for Salisbury steak may soon find it easier than ever to satisfy their craving.

Officials from Cleveland and nearby Port Stanley, Ont. are discussing a passenger ferry that would carry tourists and a select number of trucks across the Lake Erie divide as early as next year.

As Ohio's Plain Dealer reports, the two-year pilot project would focus on transporting people and cars in a bid to increase tourism in both areas.

"Port Stanley told us right off the bat they don't want a lot of trucks," William Friedman, president of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority told the paper. "They see their future as more tourism, less industrial type of activities."

The ferry idea has reportedly been circulating for years, despite the Rochester-Toronto route failure in 2004.

Although the privately operated boat boasted room for 774 passengers at $30 a pop, unstable ridership led to a $2 million loss and permanently docked the service after 80 days.

A subsequent attempt by the City of Rochester to resurrect the service in 2005 also failed and the vessel was later sold.

This time around, officials appear to be taking a more cautious approach.

"We're trying to minimize costs up front and determine how we can get this service started with the least amount of money being spent," Friedman said. "We want to see how customers respond to it. Nobody knows if it would be sustainable."

HMS Global Maritime, a vessel management company from New Albany, Ind., is also researching the best types of boats for the 3.5-hour trip. Since Port Stanley's harbor is not as deep as Cleveland's, this limits the number of ships that could safely make passage in both spots.

There's also financial incentive — at least on the American side. The U.S. federal government has earmarked $7 million in grants for the first Northeastern Ohio port city that clinches a ferry deal.

On our side of the border, past obstacles also seem to be clearing. The federal government previously rejected a transnational agreement to allow for a shuttle service, but since ownership of the port was transferred in 2010 to the City of Central Elgin, the plan's sails have started to catch wind.

But that hasn't stopped the public from weighing in.

Several commenters expressed skepticism that Canadians would be flocking to Cleveland when they could easily drive to New York or Michigan, while others listed the advantages of the ferry route, including shorter travel times and easier access between Canada and the U.S.

(CP Photo)