Sizing up the SSA terminals

Some Woods Hole residents are undeterred by numbers that show the Vineyard Haven terminal is larger than the proposed Woods Hole building.

A petition drive seeks to add a late-night ferry that would bring hospitality and tourism employees from the Island to Woods Hole opening the workforce to more commuters. -George Brennan

For several years, Woods Hole residents have stood up at public meetings or in Zoom sessions to complain about the size and scope of the Steamship Authority’s proposed Woods Hole terminal, saying it should be more in keeping with the Vineyard Haven and Hyannis terminals.

But records first mentioned by Robert Jones, the Barnstable representative on the SSA board, and then confirmed, show that the proposed square footage of the new Woods Hole terminal is smaller than the other year-round terminals.

After the project architect drew up plans for a single-story terminal building, a compromise after complaints from Woods Hole residents, the size of the building is 5,542 square feet. Meanwhile, according to the information in each town’s assessors’ records, Hyannis has the largest terminal at 7,306 square feet, the Vineyard Haven terminal is 6,121 square feet, and Nantucket’s terminal is 5,948 square feet. Only the seasonal Oak Bluffs terminal is smaller, at 1,705 square feet, according to Oak Bluffs principal assessor MacGregor Anderson.

Meanwhile, the new terminal in Woods Hole is replacing a massive concrete structure that was 20,672 square feet before being demolished in 2018 to make way for the construction.

Jones said he was “not necessarily trying to prove a point,” but the numbers show a different story from what some Woods Hole residents opposed to the project repeatedly portray. Jones said he has heard people say comments like, “Would you want this in Hyannis?” when Hyannis is the place with the largest terminal. Woods Hole residents have also said the proposed terminal should be more in keeping with what’s been built in Vineyard Haven.

“When they ask us to make it small, they’re not taking into consideration the utility of the building, what it needs to perform its tasks for now and into the future,” Jones said. He also brought up that the other terminals were constructed based on architectural needs, while the proposed Woods Hole facility is facing more challenges. For example, the new building will have to be on pilings because it’s being constructed in a flood zone.

During that board meeting, James Malkin, who represents the Vineyard, said he has also heard people talking about “size, size, size” when it came to opposition to the terminal’s construction. “Let’s stick to facts and deal with facts,” Malkin said during the meeting. He had expressed frustration earlier that a Woods Hole resident wrote a letter to the Cape Cod Times inflating the truck traffic to and from the Island.

The opposition against the Woods Hole terminal from residents, whether that be vocal during meetings, through letters to the editor, or messages to government and SSA officials, was not only because of the proposed building’s size. Other issues, such as the building’s clash with the Woods Hole aesthetic and possible increased traffic congestion, are on Woods Hole residents’ minds. 

Despite the discussion at the last board meeting, some opponents are undeterred. They believe the SSA is not listening to their requests.

“The short answer is no. Size comparisons of the various SSA’s terminals … is a distraction,” Woods Hole resident Suzanne Kuffler said. She believes downsizing the area makes more sense to reduce congestion, and the SSA should spend resources on other endeavors, such as increasing the SSA’s energy efficiency and investment in an offshore port. 

Kuffler and other residents believe the current buildings in Woods Hole have served passengers and the community just fine, and are an appropriate size for the area.

“Passengers don’t want to pay for these huge buildings, the people of Woods Hole and Falmouth don’t want them, but the SSA still insists on building them,” Woods Hole resident John Woodwell said.

“Space is already at a premium on the [Woods Hole] terminal. This huge building footprint leaves all the less room for cars and trucks coming and going to maneuver,” Woods Hole resident Nat Trumbull said.

Malkin acknowledged the concerns Woods Hole residents had about the SSA’s project, although he believes the opposition is coming from a vocal minority. 

“The SSA did a tremendous amount to accommodate Woods Hole residents,” Malkin said in a conversation with The Times. For example, he pointed to architectural compromises and an eight-page document that goes into how the SSA plans to deal with truck noises, such as limiting the boarding times of large trucks to certain times of the day. Malkin said he thinks a contributing factor to the concerns is the population growth in Woods Hole, a phenomenon shared by other parts of the Cape and Islands. The increased population leads to more congestion on Woods Hole’s roads. 

Malkin said some residents opposed to the redevelopment seem to be against the SSA operating in Woods Hole at all. “I think it’s illogical that the people on the Islands would want to spend more time or money on further ports rather than the closest deep-water port, which is Woods Hole for Martha’s Vineyard and Hyannis for Nantucket. Hyannis has existed comfortably with its facility, and Woods Hole makes the most sense geographically,” Malkin said. 

As for suggestions that the SSA continue to use the temporary terminal office, the SSA has repeatedly said it has a temporary occupancy permit, and that the state will not allow it to remain there because it is not elevated out of the flood zone. The original occupancy permit for that building has lapsed, and the SSA has received extensions.

“We have been in constant contact with the state building inspector regarding an extension and our ongoing design development of the new terminal building, so to date there has been no issue regarding our continued use of the building,” SSA communications director Sean Driscoll said. 



  1. I think I am missing something here.
    In regard to the existing $6 million temporary terminal, the SSA says “the state will not allow it to remain there because it is not elevated out of the flood zone.”
    When I look at the elevations of the proposed new terminal , it appears to be at a lower elevation than the existing 6 million dollar temporary terminal.
    Can somebody explain the logic ?
    Perhaps by the time it is built, there will be enough bovine manure piled up as a foundation to keep it high and dry

    • Good point, but did we actually pay $6 million for a prefab building with heat pumps on a flat roof? And there are 7 stairs up to the building which indicates it is raised 4 feet. What is going on here?

      • Frank.
        Thanks for questioning me.
        There are wildly different estimates on the cost of the temporary terminal.

        I had heard 6 million, — I believe from a commenter here, but after looking at some reliable sources, it appears the reality is closer to $ 3 million . So it seems I am wrong about the $ 6 million #.
        So my apologies for incorrect information.
        Still, even 3 million is pretty steep for the building only. It also does not include cost of removal and repaving the lot.

        • Whatever the original cost, it would appear to be a sunk cost at this point.

          And if the cost of the current building was inflated, what can we expect from the next one?

          The current terminal seems to be functional. And that is really all we need. We don’t need a McMansion-style ticket office as a “showplace” of some kind.

          It is an old New England tradition that “temporary measures” often become permanent. The Tisbury Planning Board has had its offices in “temporary” buildings for ages.

          What is the rush to waste—oops, I means spend— $60 million plus on a terminal that the community **does not want** and **does not like**?

          There is little we can do to bring down the size of tractor trailers—we have the same problem of hugely oversized trailers literally cutting street corners on the Island. But we certainly can stop ramming an unwanted building down Woods Hole’s throat.

          K Scott, Tisbury

  2. Whether it be 200 freight trucks or as many as 600 trucks a day traveling through Woods Hole village, the impact of those trucks on Woods Hole village and on Falmouth neighborhoods is large, significant, and undeniable.

    See this description of how the count of as many as 600 SSA-defined trucks a day in Woods Hole was determined:

  3. “The increment of cost to the retail price of goods sold on the islands of diverting one-third of all freight to New Bedford would be under 0.35 percent in all tested cases.”

    “While the increment of cost to shippers of New Bedford-based service would range from 12
    to 40 percent (worst case), the cost of ferry transportation represents only 0.8 percent of the retail price of goods sold on the islands. Thus, while marginal change in the cost of this last leg of the trip is significant to the shipper, it results in very small change in the ultimate retail price of products sold on the islands.”

    “It is estimated that the cost of goods wholesaled in the New Bedford area averages 2.9
    percent less than comparable goods sold in Massachusetts as a whole. If 10 percent of the
    shippers changed suppliers as a result of a shift in operations to New Bedford, it would result
    in a reduction of the wholesale costs of goods sufficient to eliminate the increase in
    transportation costs.”

    Source: Cambridge Systematics study on the impact of freight ferry operations from New Bedford on the cost of goods sold on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard,

  4. “Among the study’s findings were that a) 80 percent of all commodities originated (wholesale) off Cape Cod, and that the overland portion of these movements would be better served by an off-Cape port elsewhere in Southeastern Massachusetts; b) for the sum of all commodities moved, the cost of an SSA ticket and associated waiting time to truckers was no more than 1 percent of the wholesale value of commodities carried.”

    • I ask Mr Trumbull to advocate for an elimination of all highways leading to Woods Hole. Why should the residents of Bourne and other towns be disturbed by traffic heading to Woods Hole? Times change. We need to change with them. If you are sick of the traffic, I have a simple and elegant solution. Move!

    • Nat–Thank you for providing verifiable statistics with links to back up your data.
      But it is a little fuzzy as to your point.

      And to Harrison Holmes– Thank you for providing the typical irrational nonsensical pointless response .

      • As long as my point is not fuzzy. My response is irrational? I just reread my post…Don’t see anything irrational. If someone took my suggestion literally they may interpret it as irrational. While missing the irrationality of Woods Hole residents’ opposition to traffic passing through their town. As to my point. It is simply pointing out the absurdity of the idea that residents of one town feel they can regulate the free flow of people and goods to another town simply because that town is served by a ferry. Hope this helps.

    • Morgan — we have the technology to build a tunnel — if we chose to, it would not be much of a technological feat to do it.
      But me thinks you are likely not a year round resident.
      As a resident here, I would not appreciate the influx of an additional million people during the tourist season. Ok – that million number is pdooma. But lets be real —- We live on an Island… a real island.

      • Why can’t we charge them several hundred dollars per trip to use the tunnel? Wouldn’t that keep the number of people as controlled as the boats do?

  5. The comparison of the old “terminal” (actually, ticket office) size with the new seems a bit disingenuous.
    The old “terminal” (actually, ticket office) housed most of the administrative offices now (I believe) housed in a large new building adjacent to the Palmer Avenue lot. Also, of course the ticket office was located in a natural spot for the ticket office to be.

    I believe the SSA should be looking to build the smallest building possible for the WH ticket office, in a traditional style. If more space is needed in the future they could add a wing. As for the state mandating a permanent elevated building, maybe it would make sense to continue with the temporary extensions until we know for sure the needed height of the elevation. So far no stilts seem to be needed . . .

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