By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Jun 02, 2004 at 5:20 AM

{image1} Ferry service returned to Milwaukee for the first time since 1980, with completion of the Lake Express' maiden voyage Tuesday afternoon.

One of the venture's partners, Oyvind Solvang, a native of Norway, said the Lake Express was "restoring and enhancing a once traditional link between Milwaukee and Muskegon."

David Lubar, another partner in the ferry service, said, "The effort this took was nothing short of Herculean. This is a great day."

Mayor Tom Barrett, who took the round trip maiden voyage, said, "This is a great day for Milwaukee and Muskegon. Please consider us a suburb. We will consider you an eastern suburb and visit many times."

The high-speed ferry, the first of its kind on the Great Lakes, makes the trip between Milwaukee and Muskegon in 2 1/2 hours. It arrived late Tuesday, but officials said that was because a ceremony in Muskegon took longer than planned.

In addition to Solvang, Lubar and Barrett, several dignitaries spoke at a ceremony in Milwaukee, attended by about 200 people plus the more than 200 passengers from the ferry.

Spectators at the ferry dock scanned the horizon of the lake to get a first glimpse of the Lake Express before its arrival. When one man with binoculars finally saw it, he shouted, "Ten cents per peek."

Several Harley riders exited the ferry first when it docked at the south end of the Hoan Bridge. They revved up their engines and the crowd of about 200 people who had gathered to witness the first landing of the ferry.

More than 200 passengers from the trip quickly joined those spectators. The crowd gathered under a tent, just in case the dark clouds that had threatened all afternoon let loose.

Jim Holperin, secretary of state tourism, said, "The lake got a little smaller today. That's good for Michigan and Wisconsin."

Officials estimated that 100,000 visitors to Milwaukee could take the ferry, generating an estimated $25 million in tourism.

The ferry costs $85 per adult for a round trip and $118 for a vehicle. The boat also has a business class section.

Some people have expressed concern that the Lake Express will ruin the business of the S.S. Badger, which runs from Manitowoc to Ludington.

"From our first marketing surveys on, the Lake Express has never been about cannibalizing the clientele of the Badger," says Jeff Fleming of the Zizzo Group, which is handling some of the Lake Express media relations. "It's about connecting Milwaukee and the Muskegon-Grand Rapids-Holland areas."

Fleming points out that the tri-city area in Michigan is comparable size to Milwaukee, and that many passengers will take the respective ferries for different reasons.

"Comparing the Badger with the Lake Express is like comparing Amtrak service to Chicago with Greyhound service to Appleton. It's comparing apples and oranges," Fleming said.

"The Badger offers a slower speed, sentimental cruise between two towns of similar sizes. Lake Express is providing high-speed ferry service between two larger communities."

For more on the competition between the Lake Express and Badger, see a new column, WisBiz In-Depth, on

Ferries took the Milwaukee to Muskegon route for years. The Milwaukee Clipper traveled the route until 1980. It is now docked in Muskegon. Before the Clipper, the S.S. Milwaukee, now docked in Manistee, Michigan, took the route.

Lake Express officials call the service, "A shortcut to adventure," and "The last detour around Chicago you will ever have to find." They project that 20 percent of passengers will take the ferry for business.

Reservations can be made online. The Lake Express web site is

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.