SSA looks again at New Bedford for freight service

An aerial view of the M/V Woods Hole. The vessel suffered mechanical issues on and off throughout the month of March. — Bill Brine

The Steamship Authority has hired a consultant to look at whether a freight service from another port, most likely New Bedford, would ease truck traffic in Woods Hole, the authority’s executive director, Wayne Lamson, told the Times.

Craig Johnson of Flagship Management in Florida will investigate all aspects of providing freight shipments to the Island from New Bedford, Mr. Lamson said. That will include looking at possible locations, talking to potential customers about the feasibility, and looking into private operators who might be interested in running the service, he said. Mr. Johnson will be paid $19,500 for the work. Members discussed Mr. Johnson’s investigation at the Steamship Authority’s board meeting in Hyannis on Tuesday.

Mr. Johnson’s report is due in three to four months, though such a new freight service is considered a long-term solution to traffic concerns, Mr. Lamson said.

There are some significant hurdles to operating a freight service from New Bedford. One is that State Pier in New Bedford, which is a possible site for the service, has not been kept up by the state Department of Recreation and Conservation, Mr. Lamson said. After a successful venture in Gloucester, however, the state has turned over the management of the New Bedford pier to MassDevelopment, an economic development agency for the state.

Another issue is the price of the service to customers. Mr. Johnson was involved in a freight service in 2000 and 2001 that operated from New Bedford, Mr. Lamson said. That service proved too costly to continue, adding $600 per vehicle to the cost of a trip from Woods Hole to the Island. New Bedford is about the same distance away from Martha’s Vineyard as Hyannis is from Nantucket, where all Nantucket-bound SSA traffic originates, Mr. Lamson said.

Mr. Johnson has experience with marine freight service and with service issues here. “He’s familiar with the issue and the players involved,” Mr. Lamson said.

Though the issue of truck traffic has arisen periodically through the years, numbers for peak traffic times — July and August — show that truck traffic has remained relatively steady. The number of trips was 78 per day 12 years ago, and it was 81 trips per day last year, Mr. Lamson said.

“Public officials were complaining about how dramatically traffic had increased and had nothing to back it up,” Mr. Lamson said.

The need for an off-Cape freight service is far from a unanimous position of the SSA members. “Some don’t think it would ever make sense,” Mr. Lamson said.