Potential expiration of agreement on July 1 could impact ferry service 

MARION, Ky. (June 24, 2024) – Team Kentucky and our partners at the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) remain committed to supporting the Ohio River Ferry Authority (Ferry Authority) and its mission to oversee operations of the Cave-in-Rock Ferry. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) recognizes the importance of maintaining a vital transportation link between Kentucky and Illinois via the Cave-in-Rock Ferry.  

KYTC remains in negotiations with the Ferry Authority but has yet to finalize a new agreement for financial support of the ferry operations. The Ferry Authority and KYTC have tentatively come to an agreement on a 13% increase in annual funding for the ferry. Discussions are underway with the Ferry Authority to review contractual language and to work to finalize the agreement to ensure it meets reimbursement guidelines and state procurement regulations.

With less than a week remaining before the current agreement with the Ferry Authority ends, KYTC reminds travelers of the potential disruption to the Cave-in-Rock ferry service beginning July 1, 2024. Travelers should be prepared to use an alternate route between Cave-in-Rock, Ill., and Crittenden County, Ky., if service is interrupted.   

Background on Cave-in-Rock Ferry 

The current state-funded, two-year agreement between the privately owned ferry operator and the Ferry Authority will expire on June 30, 2024. The Ferry Authority was created by the Crittenden County Fiscal Court to oversee the management and operation of the private ferry service, which is equally funded by Kentucky and Illinois.   

To prevent a service disruption, KYTC officials have been in discussions with IDOT and the Ferry Authority since February regarding the agreement renewal. The Ferry Authority shared a draft agreement with the ferry operator in early April, following the completion of Kentucky’s legislative session and authorization of the state budget for the next two years. 

Earlier this month, the ferry operator notified the Ferry Authority and KYTC that they are rejecting the proposed contract, citing issues with the proposed funding and the terms of the contract. The Ferry Authority later notified KYTC that the proposed increase of 13% in annual funding would be sufficient to support the ferry operation but that the Ferry Authority would like to propose changes to KYTC’s proposed agreement with the authority. 

The agreement from KYTC includes updated reimbursement guidelines and required language from the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet to ensure it is in line with the state’s procurement regulations. These provisions are necessary to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure all expenditures made are reasonable and appropriate. 

Since 2018, reimbursements to the Cave-in-Rock Ferry have more than doubled, from $804,000 six years ago to $1,662,000 annually in 2024. During that same period, Kentucky’s five other state-funded ferry operations have increased but at a dramatically smaller rate. 

On behalf of the two states, KYTC officials continue to work with the Ferry Authority to develop an agreement to continue ferry service at Cave-in-Rock. The states will also explore alternative options to provide a cross-river connection should the operator decide to discontinue ferry service at this location. 

The Cave-in-Rock Ferry carries about 300 vehicles per day at no cost to travelers. The shortest alternative drive between Marion, KY, and Cave-in-Rock, Ill., would use the KY 56 Shawneetown Bridge and take about 35 minutes longer than a trip on the ferry.