SSA chooses less costly ferry design

The Governor is experiencing mechanical issues. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

The Steamship Authority members decided last week that the ability to carry an additional 128 passengers is not worth adding $1.9 million to the cost to build the new ferry that will replace the freight boat Governor.

Meeting in Woods Hole on February 18, the members agreed with a management recommendation to direct the Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle, Washington, to move forward with the construction of a new passenger/vehicle ferry with a capacity of 384 passengers, based on a preliminary estimate that to build the larger vessel would increase construction costs and add $200,000 to annual operating costs.

According to a management report of the Tuesday meeting, the SSA said that a passenger capacity of 384 is expected to be adequate over the vessel’s expected life. “During 2013, the SSA’s large passenger vessels carried fewer than 300 passengers on 84 percent of their trips on the Martha’s Vineyard route and on almost 98 percent of their trips on the Nantucket route,” according to the report.

The SSA said the freight boat Sankaty, with the largest passenger capacity of the freight boat fleet, can carry 290 passengers, “Since this new vessel would most likely be running in conjunction with, rather than in place of a large vessel, the staff feels the proposed capacity of 384 total passengers on board would be adequate under most, if not all circumstances.”

Elliott Bay estimated the cost to construct the new vessel would be about $35 million. It is expected to have an annual operating cost of $4,050,000.

The vessel’s design should be completed and reviewed by the United States Coast Guard by October 2014 so that the SSA can issue an invitation for bids and then award a construction contract for the vessel in January 2015 and have the vessel begin service in May 2016, management said.

The Governor was built in Oakland, California in 1954 and obtained by the boatline as surplus federal government property. The vessel’s draft makes it unsuitable for Hyannis Harbor on the Nantucket route, and its open deck and low sides create problems in rough weather. It’s the only vessel the SSA cannot use on a yearly basis, according to SSA general manager Wayne Lamson.

In August, SSA members endorsed Mr. Lamson’s recommendation that the freight vessel Governor be replaced with a new 235-foot vessel that can operate year-round to either island with a vehicle capacity of up to 17 trucks or 50 car equivalent units and a passenger capacity of at least 384 passengers, including inside seating for at least 250.

Board members also requested an analysis of the costs and benefits that would result if the SSA were to increase the interior passenger capacity of the proposed replacement vessel to more than 500 passengers and were to include more passenger amenities on board, such as a food concession area and larger restrooms.

On track and on trucks

In other business,Mr. Lamson reported that improvements to the Palmer Avenue parking lot are proceeding on schedule and that it should still be completed by mid-May.

Management also reported that Green Seal Environmental, Inc. has prepared a preliminary design for the SSA’s new parking lot off of Thomas B. Landers Road that calls for a “one tier” lot instead of the previous plan to construct the lot in three tiers. Although the one tier lot is estimated to cost an additional $1,500,000 to construct, the new lot should end up with somewhere between 1,850 and 1,900 parking spaces, management said. Construction is expected to start in October and take approximately five months.

Members also approved a charitable giving policy that will continue the SSA’s practice of not giving cash donations to any charities, but rather only passenger tickets that usually are used by the charities as raffle items to raise money for those charities in exchange for promotional exposure for the SSA, according to the management report.

The board also approved a trade sponsorship marketing policy that will continue the SSA’s practice of sponsoring events that take place in Barnstable, Fairhaven, Falmouth, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and New Bedford by donating transportation services in the form of passenger tickets, vehicle/truck reservations, coupons, discounts, gift cards and/or merchandise from the SSA’s online store in exchange for promotional exposure of approximately the same value.

In the final bit of business, Mr. Lamson reported that the SSA has sent out a letter to all of the freight shippers who travel with the SSA on the Martha’s Vineyard route “reminding them to obey the posted speed limits when traveling to and from the SSA’s terminals, to not use their Jake brakes on Woods Hole Road and to not arrive at the Woods Hole terminal prior to 5 am. “In addition, the SSA asked the freight shippers to share the road and respect the right of way of bicyclists, to not idle their vehicles after they arrive at the terminals, and to refrain from using any inappropriate language.”