SSA moves forward with plans for a new ferry, Woods Hole terminal

The Steamship Authority hopes to have a new freight vessel in service within two years.

The new vessel is designed to carry 10 tractor trailer trucks and 385 passengers. — Illustration by Elliott Bay Desi

The Steamship Authority (SSA) is finalizing design plans for a new freight ferry intended to take some of the pressure off larger boats carrying freight and passengers to and from the Islands.

The SSA board is also engaged in the design process for a new terminal in Woods Hole that has raised the hackles of some residents the small port community who object to its proposed size and location.

Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member, estimates it will be two years before the launch of the new ferry. He made the rounds of local government boards last week to update town leaders on plans for the new boat, as well as plans for the new terminal.

Preliminary plans for the new freight vessel show a 235-foot boat capable of carrying 10 fully loaded tractor trailer trucks, or 55 cars, as well as 385 passengers.

Cost estimates of the new boat vary widely, depending on options and contingencies, but Mr. Hanover said the price tag is beginning to firm up. “I think the boat is going to come in at about $35 million,” he said in a meeting with Dukes County Commissioners at their April 9 meeting. “The Steamship Authority has ample replacement funds. This should not affect fares.”

Designed by the Seattle firm Elliott Bay Design Group, the vessel features a drive on, drive off freight deck, covered on the forward part of the ship, but open aft.

Mr. Hanover said new design includes many features to save fuel and operating costs.

“It will use 9.5 gallons of fuel per mile, with lower emissions,” he said. “We can crew it with a freight boat crew; that’s $200,000 savings per year. We expect very few cancellations. It has a high profile, but it is also lightweight.”

County commissioner Melinda Loberg, a member of the Tisbury harbor advisory committee and candidate for selectman, questioned the “single-ended” design. Tisbury waterway regulations require all new ferries longer than 150 feet to be “double-ended,” to avoid the need to turn around in the busy harbor.

In a phone interview with The Times Sunday, Mr. Hanover said a double-ended design would add $2 million to the cost of the boat. While he promised to work with Tisbury on the design, he said it is unclear whether the local waterway regulation is binding on the Steamship Authority, an autonomous agency created by the Massachusetts state legislature. He said the process of gathering recommendations from local communities will be different than it was when the Island Home was in its design phase.

“The Island Home was a fiasco, I felt,” Mr. Hanover said. “The process was painful. We’ve already got a predetermined design. This is what the captains want, this is what the management wants, we’ll ask if there are any other considerations.”

He said the design plans will not be set until the Steamship Authority board votes on the final design.

Terminal plans

The Steamship Authority is also moving forward with plans to rebuild the Woods Hole terminal. The latest design concept features a large area for vehicles to line up directly on the waterfront, with a two-story terminal building about 240 feet back from the slips, and a shuttle bus drop-off area behind the terminal.

At the request of the Woods Hole community working group, SSA management had asked Bertaux + Iwerks Architects to evaluate several possible variations of the “single level” and “split level” alternative design concepts presented last November that open up the water view as much as possible, according to a management report of the March authority board meeting.

The architects were also asked to develop an additional design concept that relocates the terminal building to where the SSA’s freight shed is currently located. SSA management is expected to present a preferred design concept to Authority members when they meet on April 22 in Woods Hole.

“This is a little frightening because of the money involved,” Mr. Hanover said. “Woods Hole is the last terminal to be renovated. It’s on wood pilings that are starting to fail. I think they were put in in the 1800s.”

Mr. Hanover is critical of organized opposition to the plans. He said Steamship Authority management has already made too many concessions to a working group representing the Woods Hole community.

“A lot of these people are worried about the view from the bridge,” Mr. Hanover said. “I didn’t understand what they were talking about, because the only view I want to see is which boat is in the slip.”

Mr. Hanover said he has concerns with the current design about the distance passengers must walk from the terminal or shuttle buses to board boats. “We need to make it like people don’t feel they’re on a cross-country hike to get to the boat,” he said.