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Local Transit

Beaver Island ferry travelling down the waterway.
Department of Transportation

Local Transit

Determining State and Federal Transportation Responsibilities to Residents on Islands

Project Number: SPR-1727

Contract Number: 2021-0207

Status: Complete

Start Date: 01/15/2021

End Date 06/30/2023


Michigan has the second-longest coastline after Alaska, with approximately 15,000 residents inhabiting the top 5 populous islands
in Michigan water bodies. To provide mobility equity, the residents of these islands are expected to have equal access to work,
healthcare, emergency services, and economic opportunities as the mainland residents. Four Michigan islands (Beaver, Sugar,
Neebish, Drummond) were focal to the research, with certain scope of research being extended to an additional four islands
(Manitou, Bois Blanc, Grand, Harsens). The importance of ferry services operation, planning and maintenance, and the lack of
rigorous studies that focuses on “ideal transportation responsibility by state and federal authorities” in Michigan, suggest an urgent
need to assess the current state of affairs, and identify mobility gaps for island residents, in order to determine how authorities can
intervene and facilitate improvements. To do so, the research team conducted a comprehensive review of literatures regarding ferry
services across the nation. Then, a holistic appraisal of current ferry operations in Michigan was done, including understanding the
backgrounds of islands relevant to the study, operational data inquiry from ferry operators, and an exhaustive review of historical
studies and published reports on ferry operations in Michigan. Next, the research team explored governance strategies and best
practices by conducting a nationwide state Department of Transportation (DOT) survey. Subsequently, a survey of ferry ridership
was done at Beaver, Sugar, Neebish and Drummond Islands that explored satisfaction towards current services, room for
improvements, and the perceived ideal role of state/federal authorities for island residents. Interviews with residents, business
owners and local representatives were also conducted to understand mobility gaps for different types of users. Maintenance
spending analyses were also conducted, which consequently enabled the research team to provide a projection of future maintenance
spending and funding needs for MDOT’s planning perusal. A synthesis of various data collection was then formed as a mobility
trade-off matrix, which highlights pertinent mobility gaps in islands of interest. Additionally, feasibility to access federal funding
was also assessed for Manitou, Bois Blanc, Grand and Harsens Islands. Key outcomes of this study are insights on existing ferry
operations on the islands of interest, mobility gaps of island residents, maintenance spending forecast and funding needs through
2032. Most importantly, the research team proposed a strategic set of recommendations for MDOT in regard to the ideal roles of
state and federal authorities to ensure island residents’ welfare and mobility needs were outlined. While the research was conducted
on certain islands, study findings may have wider applications on other island communities beyond those studied and analyzed in
this report.