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Long service by river ferries has run its course

Seven years before the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, crews with long poles began pushing a wooden ferry across the Connecticut River between Chester and Hadlyme.

The state took over its operation in 1917, and has continued running it, mostly in summer, ever since.

The ferry never was a profitable enterprise - especially after the nearby East Haddam Bridge between Haddam and East Haddam was built in 1913, the Arrigoni Bridge between Portland and Middletown was built in 1938 and the Baldwin Bridge between Old Lyme and Saybrook was built in 1948.

Still, it remained a seasonal attraction - a relaxing, fun way to cross the Connecticut, particularly with kids in tow, or on bicycle.

Now, sadly, the iconic service, along with an even older ferry route to the north between Glastonbury and Rocky Hill that began operating in 1655, is about to be deep-sixed, sunk by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's austerity budget.

We can't entirely fault the governor for sinking the ferries at a time when thousands of state workers are losing their jobs to close a $1.6-billion budget gap, but we can lament the choices he and the state legislature have had to make.

We all knew it was only a matter of time before the ferries had to head to drydock, and in fact the previous administration had proposed shutting them down last fall, only to reverse its position after a hue and cry from residents who either relied on the boats or enjoyed riding in them every so often.

Simply put, the state can no longer afford such idle luxuries.

Perhaps if and when the economy recovers Connecticut can reinstate the service, but it's hard to justify keeping eight ferry workers on the job when 4,328 active state employees are being let go. Folding the historic ferry service is difficult, but no more so than eliminating positions of people who care for the state's indigent and mentally ill, or those who serve the public at the state's motor vehicle offices.

There is a likely argument to keep every job that's being cut, but the fact is, the state can't afford to.

Yes, the seasonal Connecticut River ferries are historic, but that alone is not reason to save them.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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