In 1994, River Action, a local non for profit group dedicated to fostering environmental, economic and cultural vitality of the Mississippi River and its riverfront in the Quad Cities region, received a $25,000 grant from the Riverboat Development Authority to conduct a feasibility study of a water taxi on the Mississippi River.
A committee was formed that included River Action, city planners from the 3 major cities – Davenport and Bettendorf, IA, and Moline, IL , the local transit authority (MetroLINK), a Riverboat captain, a retired Coast Guard employee, and a local non-gaming riverboat company, the Celebration Belle.
In lieu of moving forward with a planning study, the committee proactively purchased an aluminum pontoon boat with limited seating and began planning for service. Initial talks with the riverfront cities in the upper pool of the Mississippi began.
Over the next 9 months the committee worked on the design and construction of the boat, scheduling, docking, personnel, and garnering community support.
A contest was held to name the boat, and a professor at Scott Community College had the idea to call the boat the “Channel Cat”. A local marketing firm designed the logo, and St. Ambrose University developed the marketing plan.
On July 4th weekend, 1995, the boat was launched.
River Action operated the service for three years before asking MetroLINK to own and operate the service as a public transit option.
At that time the three bridges in the area that connect the two states were in different phases of repair or reconstruction. This was causing traffic congestion and delays for people to get back and forth to work. It was an opportunity for MetroLINK to provide passenger ferryboat service to provide an alternative mode of transportation to cross the Mississippi.
MetroLINK researched the possibility of obtaining Ferry Boat Discretionary (FBD) funding availability for passenger river crossing. A grant application was completed and MetroLINK was awarded a 1.2 million dollar grant to upgrade the boat. MetroLINK purchased two passenger ferry boats (later a 3rd was purchased) to expand the service.
The boats are covered, open air 47 foot, 24 net ton military transport barges, with an aluminum hull, a deck, bench seating for 49 passengers, and room for 7 bicycles. Each Channel Cat is powered by two 250 horsepower John Deere engines using B20 Bio-diesel fuel and is fully ADA accessible.
A local riverboat company is contracted to provide Coast Guard Certified Boat Captains and deckhands.
The four (4) unique landing locations offer a variety of businesses and restaurants to visit along the bi-state riverfront. Cities served include Moline, IL, and Davenport and Bettendorf, IA.
Through the Federal Transit Administration Passenger Ferryboat Program and Federal Highway Administration Ferryboat Program, MetroLINK has been awarded over nearly 5 million dollars for dock infrastructure projects:
Riverbend Commons Landing
- The project provided a new, MetroLINK-owned home port for the Channel Cat boats, which enables MetroLINK to maintain the vessels with the necessary maintenance and storage functions. The dock is ADA accessible, includes a wider passenger queue area on the dock, and passenger railings. A pedestrian bridge provides connections to parking. The dock also provides closer access to public restrooms, and offers signage that provides Channel Cat riders with real-time next boat arrival information.
John Deere Commons Landing
- This project will construct a replacement terminal in 2021. This includes the construction of landside improvements to enhance ADA accessibility, flood mitigation activities, and passenger amenities, as well as fabrication and installation of the replacement dock for use by both passenger ferryboat service and transient boaters.
Village of East Davenport Landing
- This 2022 project will construct a new passenger ferryboat dock in the Village of East Davenport. Possible passenger amenities may include new lighting, railings/gates, real-time signage and video-surveillance.
MetroLINK has expanded additional passenger amenities including a Channel Cat Mobile Ticketing app, which allows riders to purchase tickets, as well as access schedules and historical audio tours.
MetroLINK continues to partner with River Action’s Summer Education series, by offering guided “Channel Cat Talks” each summer aboard the Channel Cat. “Channel Cat Talks” teaches participants first-hand about the wildlife, history, culture and geology of the Mississippi River and the Quad Cities. Special tours have been conducted throughout the historic I-74 bridge construction.
MetroLINK and the Channel Cat have been awarded the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce “Multi-Modal” award, the River Action “Eddy” award, and is consistently ranked as one of the top three tourist attractions by Locals Love Us.
The Channel Cat passenger ferryboat service has a tremendous impact on the Quad Cities economy, and offers riders an alternative mode of transportation to cross the Mississippi River to access two states, three downtowns, and bike trails.
For more on the Channel Cat, visit www.metroqc.com/channelcat or on social media @qcchannelcat.