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Students float water taxi idea

The class is all about possibilities.

From studying connections for a proposed high-speed rail service between the Twin Ports and Twin Cities to researching ways to develop the former Central High School site, students in the University of Wisconsin-Superior's urban planning and transportation systems class tackle real-world issues.

This year's topic is creating a lot of buzz, according to Randy Gabrys-Alexson, the geography professor who teaches the class with Richard Stewart, director of the college's transportation and logistics program.

The class studied whether a water taxi between Duluth and Superior would float.

"It's the best project concept Dr. Stewart has proposed to date," Gabrys-Alexson said. "They have all been excellent, current-event projects, but the topic of a water taxi is of interest, not only to cyclists but to residents and tourists who may want to travel via water between Duluth and Superior."

Originally, the class looked at a service that catered to bikers.

"There are a ton of cyclists in the area," said Andre Watt, general manager of Continental Ski & Bike in Duluth. But to bike from downtown Duluth to downtown Superior takes about an hour because the route must go across the Bong Bridge.

"You might as well forget about it," Watt said, although there are cyclists who do make the commute.

But, said Jeredt Runions, a UWS art major taking the class, the students were surprised to find a much larger pool of potential patrons, including tourists, surfers and families taking day trips.

They studied a number of possible routes -- from Canal Park to Barker's Island, Park Point to Barker's Island and Wisconsin Point to Barker's Island.

"We had to go out in the community and talk to a lot of community members," Runions said.

They spread a wide net, connecting with Duluth and Superior city staff, members of the Metropolitan Interstate Council, representatives from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Jim Sharrow with Duluth Port Authority and area bike shop staff.

Although Runions didn't reveal if the plan would hold water, he said it was a worthwhile project because it connected students with the community and offered a starting point.

"It's a ground base foundation template for people to run with if they want to run with this project," he said.

With its heavy academic service learning component, the class provides free research to the community.

It is also a boon for the students.

"The project provides them with real-life work experience and community connections that may help them as they seek employment following graduation," Gabrys-Alexson said.

Watt thought water transportation linking to Barker's Island and Wisconsin Point would interest bikers "because Wisconsin Point is a difficult area to get to from Duluth. For bicyclists, it's almost impossible."

And Barker's Island connects to Superior's Osaugie Trail.

So, does the plan hold water?

"Many communities located on water heavily utilize water taxis/ferries for many reasons," Gabrys-Alexson said. "The Twin Ports are very close together via water, but most people do not have the opportunity to be on the lake."

Anyone interested in traveling between cities via water is encouraged to learn the results of the feasibility study during a public presentation at 4 p.m. Monday, April 29, in the Great Room of the Yellowjacket Union at UWS.

Parking is available in lots 11 and 12 and a reception and refreshments follow the presentation.