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Free shuttle service across river begins Monday
, Courier Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2014 5:00 AM
Extended commutes caused by the Madison-Milton Bridge closure may end for some workers who live and work on opposite sides of the Ohio River.
The City of Madison and Rockin' Thunder Jet Boat Rides LLC announced Friday that a free passenger ferry service across the Ohio River will begin on Monday.
Rockin' Thunder captains Paul Nicholson and Janet Harding will ferry passengers between Madison and Milton on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. - rain or shine. The ferry service will not be available on Saturday or Sunday.
There will be no cost to people wanting to cross via the ferry, but rides will be given on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations will be taken for the ferry service, Nicholson said.
Riders will be asked to sign a waiver form before making the trip, although rides will not be the "wild" rides provided by Rockin' Thunder during tourist season. Each passenger also will be required to wear a life vest provided by Rockin' Thunder.
In Madison, passengers will board the boat at the Madison boat ramp near West Street and Vaughn Drive. A dock will be provided by Eagle Hollow Marina.
Riders may park their vehicles on Vaughn Drive.
In Milton, the passenger ferry will load and unload riders onto the emergency ferry located at the Milton boat ramp.
Riders may park at the Milton City Park to walk to the boat ramp.
Riders should not park on the Madison or Milton boat ramps.
Passengers will be responsible for transportation on the opposite side of the river. Officials are encouraging ferry riders to carpool with family members, co-workers or friends to reach their destination.
The Rockin' Thunder boat will be based in Madison, so passengers in Milton will need to call the Rockin' Thunder captains at (812) 701-1155 for pickup.
People on both sides of the river began contacting Rockin' Thunder soon after the emergency bridge closure earlier this month.
"Our phone just started ringing," Nicholson said, with a "staggering amount" of people hoping to catch a ride across the river to shorten their daily commute for work.
Even though Nicholson and Harding didn't expect to open the Rockin' Thunder Jet Boats rides until mid-May, they saw the need for the service, worked out an agreement with the city and began to take the boats out of storage.
The captains will begin the ferry service with one boat until they assess the volume of riders. The boat can transport 16 people at one time.
"We foresee the time when we will be operating both boats," Nicholson said. "We'll commit to do this until the bridge reopens."
Madison Mayor Damon Welch said discussions with the Rockin' Thunder owners for the passenger ferry began Wednesday after bridge project officials announced the extended closure until at least mid-April. Welch also discussed the situation with Milton Mayor Denny Jackson to set up parking arrangements on the Milton side of the river.
"I am pleased that we were able to get an agreement to make sure residents can make it between the two cities," Welch said. "When we were told it might be a short delay, a number of generous residents stepped up to help as they always do in times of need. However, with an extended delay, we knew something had to be done to help residents whose time and money is being pinched through this closing."
Costs related to the passenger ferry service will be absorbed by the City of Madison for now.
The bridge project teams are in discussions with the city concerning the costs, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.
Any changes to the passenger ferry schedule will be posted on the Rockin' Thunder website at www.rockinthunder.com and on the Facebook page.
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