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, upgraded in 1994., and again in 2006.
months for ferry use are June, July and August. Throughout the
year, more than 4 million people use the Galveston-Bolivar ferry
system. The average daily passenger count throughout the year is around
11,500, with a high 30,500 to a low 2,700 riders. The average
daily vehicle count is 3,700.
Galveston Island to Port Bolivar
Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry is the bridge between two segments of
State Highway 87. South of IH-10, State Highway 87 s 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
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, Ray 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 the department.
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.