Ferry Line Proposed to Counter Trans-Bay Traffic

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Plans for a ferry service that has not been seen in Berkeley since 1936 could bring an additional choice to East Bay commuters who would prefer to take a cruise across the bay rather than driving or riding BART.

The proposed $22 million project would restart the 20- to 30-minute ferry service that ended when the Bay Bridge was completed in 1936, providing alternative transportation solutions.

"BART seems a little jammed at times-as long as you are offering comparative time and prices, (the ferry) seems like a good alternative," said Elyse Grant, a student at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

Daily trans-bay traffic is estimated to increase by 300,000 passengers as of 2025, according to a preliminary report by the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transit Authority, which oversees planning for the project.

A new ferry line would lessen road congestion and improve public safety options in an emergency situation, the report stated.

The last regular Berkeley ferry line was used to transport automobiles, but the completion of the Bay Bridge made this service irrelevant, said Berkeley historian Charles Wollenberg.

After a 1989 earthquake damaged the Bay Bridge, ferry service was briefly reinstated while repairs were made. Now, increased traffic has brought the possibility of a ferry back.

If construction begins as scheduled during summer 2010, the new line could begin carrying 1,700 passengers daily by late 2011.

Ian Austin, vice president of URS Corporation, which wrote the preliminary study for the authority, said that the ferry would be "similar in terms of subsidy to BART," which uses government assistance to keep fare prices low in order to encourage commuter use.

He said the ferry would especially appeal to higher-income commuters who would not normally be inclined to ride BART or AC Transit.

Shirley Douglas, community relations manager for the authority, said that the ferry would also increase accessibility for people who wish to visit East Bay attractions.

But at a public comment meeting on Tuesday, Berkeley and Albany residents criticized the impact that a ferry terminal would have on traffic and parking in the area, as well as potential obstructions of bay views important to businesses near the Berkeley Marina and Berkeley Pier.

Four sites-the Berkeley Marina, Berkeley Fishing Pier, Gilman Street and Buchanan Street-are under consideration as sites for the potential ferry terminal in Berkeley or Albany.

"Right now, all sites are equal," said John Sindzinski, manager of planning and development for the authority.

The ferry terminal would require dredging the shallow bed off the shoreline in order to accommodate ferry boats, which some critics say would hurt the delicate ecosystem near Eastshore State Park.

"There is a huge amount of dredging that would have to happen," said Albany Vice Mayor Marge Atkinson. "The length that you would have to go in the bay would be prohibitive."

Several attendees at the meeting said constructing a terminal at the proposed sites on Gilman and Buchanan streets would conflict with Albany's general plan, which limits development along the bay.

Though environmental and parking issues are a matter of concern, community leaders in Berkeley are excited about the likely placement of the terminal in their city.

"We welcome a Berkeley ferry," said Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio.


Contact Zach Williams at [email protected]

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