Plans for developing a ferry terminal in Redwood City are moving forward once again after the port’s governing body fully supported funding a business plan that will outline projected rider interest and the service’s long-term financial success.
“The residents of the Peninsula have waited a really long time for the project to get going and I want to address or at least raise a sense of urgency around timing and getting going on this,” Commission Chair Lorianna Kastrop said during a Redwood City Port Commission meeting Wednesday morning.
The commission has long had a vision of introducing a ferry terminal in the area, connecting the Peninsula to the East Bay and expanding the footprint of the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which is expanding ferry service and also coordinates their potential use for emergencies.
Under the vision plan, two routes would be added to the existing WETA system connecting the Port of Redwood City to San Francisco and Oakland ports. The terminal would be located along the Westpoint Slough either on the north where two boats could be docked at once or the west side which would cost less to develop. Existing WETA stations stand in the cities of San Francisco, Alameda, Oakland, South San Francisco, Vallejo, and the most recent addition of Richmond.
The new San Francisco route would have a total of eight daily trips and the Oakland route would have six, requiring the acquisition of at least two 320-passenger vessels at roughly $16 million each. Annual operating expenses would range from nearly $13 million in early years to more than $17 million 10 years into the service. Initial annual revenue from the service is projected to be $7.7 million, growing over 10 years to $13 million.
Having completed a Financial Feasibility Study and Cost-benefit and Economic Impact Analysis last year — approved by the Redwood City Council in January — the next step will be to complete a business plan. On Wednesday, commissioners voted to give the business plan contract to the engineering and construction firm responsible for completing the feasibility study, CDM Smith, given its knowledge of the port.
“We’re just looking forward to being involved in the next phase of this project,” Bill Hurrell, vice president of CDM Smith, told commissioners.
The $160,000 business plan is expected to be completed before the end of the calendar year, providing the firm time to conduct community outreach. The plan will provide ridership forecasting for opening day as well as 10 years and 20 years into the future. Ferry system governance and organizational structure will also be outlined along with a 10-year budget forecast and operational costs.
As requested by the Redwood City Council during its Jan. 11 meeting, the plan would also outline projections for equitable access to service. Additional work is underway to better understand last-mile connections to the ferry system.
Eager to see the plan quickly developed, Kastrop asked whether a “cookie-cutter approach” could be used in Redwood City by reusing designs from other recent ferry system projects. Kevin Connolly, planning and development manager for WETA, said the agency typically uses standard designs that will provide cost savings. He said he was not optimistic time savings would be realized because most time is spent on environmental studies that cannot be rushed.
Kastrup also requested that electrically powered clean ferries be considered in the business plan, providing the public with information on how the option could affect service costs. Hurrell said that while the plan would take into consideration vessel types, the agency was not planning to look at clean ferries but would do so given commission interest.
Commissioner R. Simms Duncan also asked if a fueling station would be built at the port, potentially providing cost savings by reducing trips to a central Bay fueling station in Alameda. Connolly said the agency has also not considered having a fueling station at the port but said “it’s certainly on the table.”
“The WETA board is very excited about this project, about engaging with you about this project and seeing this through as a showcase for the future,” Connolly said.
Port Executive Director Kristine Zortman noted it does have mobile fueling capabilities.
To move forward with the ferry terminal, the port would likely have to reclaim land being used by Cemex, a concrete and cement manufacturing company. The plant is currently on a 30-day month-to-month lease but would need up to 2 1/2 years to fully decommission the site, Zortman said.
Cemex is also looking into relocating its ready-mix site in San Carlos to the port to save on time traveled between receiving shipments at the port and prepping materials at the site. Zortman said the company has been made aware that conditions of approval would be placed on the project, preventing it from having any negative effects on the new ferry system.
The commission on Wednesday ultimately approved a reimbursement agreement for a California Environmental Quality Act analysis of the plant and a service agreement with Ascent Environmental Inc. to conduct it, along with the initial study, for the ready-mix plant.
Kastrup encouraged the company to look into improving the aesthetics of the plant that would be in view of the ferry system and other activation occurring at the port. Steve Switzer, the plant manager, said the company recognizes the importance of the ferry system, assuring the commission that Cemex representatives would put additional thought into the looks of the project.
“Mixing industrial with people, there are ways to do things like that,” Switzer said. “People need to know where things come from and they can coexist with where things come from.”
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