A Bay Ridge-Staten Island Ferry: Here’s How to Pay for It
Last week’s “Focus on Bay Ridge” column asked, “Does Bay Ridge Need Another Ferry to Staten Island?”
Prior to opening of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in 1964, ferry service ran from the Bay Ridge’s 69th Street pier to the St. George, Staten Island Ferry Terminal, with connections to the Whitehall Street-Manhattan Ferry Terminal. The ferry, which was municipally owned by privately operated, stopped operating soon after the bridge opened. Fifty-seven years later, isn’t it time to restore a Staten Island-to-Brooklyn ferry service?
Here are some ways to pay for such a ferry. There is continued good news from Washington concerning federal support for transportation. The Federal Transit Administration announced a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) on Aug. 6. This is an opportunity to apply for $38 million in Fiscal Year 2021 competitive grant funding for passenger ferry projects nationwide.
FTA’s Passenger Ferry Grant Program funds capital projects to improve existing passenger ferry service, establish new ferry service, and repair and modernize ferry boats, terminals, and related facilities and equipment. Under this $38 million program, $4 million has been set aside for low or zero-emission ferries, or ferries using electric battery or fuel cell components, and the infrastructure to support such ferries.
FTA recipients can also choose to spend whatever they receive under their share of Fiscal Year Section 5307 for Urbanized Areas: $4.929 billion or Section 5337 “State of Good Repair” $2,723 billion for ferry projects. The Federal Highway Administration also has funding under several programs including the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ), Surface Transportation Program (STP) and others that can be flexed or transferred to FTA. These can also finance capital ferry projects.
Mayor Bill de Blasio should ask NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Hank Gutman to apply for these funds on behalf of the Staten Island Ferry. NYC Economic Development Corporation President & CEO Rachel Loeb can do the same on behalf of the Private Ferry Operators Program. This is another great example of Washington providing financial assistance to promote public transportation.
New York City can also apply for capital grants from the New York State Department of Transportation and other formula and competitive discretionary FTA grants to assist in funding.
Albany provides State Transportation Operating Assistance (STOA). Ridership on any transit service generates yearly federal transportation capital assistance via the annual FTA Section 15 annual reporting process.
Numerous past private ferry operators have come and gone. They could not financially survive without government subsidies. Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus, subway and commuter rail lines, along with the NYC DOT’s Staten Island Ferry, are subsidized by a combination of city, state and federal assistance for both capital and operating costs. All new ferry services will require similar subsidies to survive.
New ferry services can be implemented more quickly than construction of new subway, commuter rail or highways. These can take years or even decades until completion of environmental reviews, planning, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements and construction before reaching beneficial use.
Completing all of the above for ferries, along with finding funding for ferryboats, docks and parking, will cost in the millions. But it is easier than finding the billions of dollars for construction of new or extended subway, commuter rail or highways. Utilization of ferry boats equipped with fuel-efficient engines can make a positive contribution to air quality.
On a related topic, no one remembers the long-forgotten proposed subway and rail tunnel between 69th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and St. George, Staten Island. The idea was to extend subway service from the Brooklyn BMT Fourth Avenue line, now the R train, to Staten Island.
Ground was broken with entrances at both ends in the 1920s, but the project quickly ran out of money and was abandoned to history. When I lived on Shore Road, friends and I would attempt to find the abandoned site that was filled in decades earlier, to no avail. At that time, the estimated cost was $60 million. It would cost billions and take a decade to build today.
Brooklyn Heights resident Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer.
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