Born on the bayou: NYC ferry fleet builds for sum­mer launch

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY VERENA DOBNIK AND GER­ALD HER­BERT

FRANKLIN, LA. | The fu­ture of public trans­porta­tion in New York City is tak­ing shape on the bay­ous of Louisiana and Alabama.

Ship­yard work­ers in the two states are scram­bling to fin­ish the city’s new ferry fleet in time for a launch this sum­mer, just a lit­tle more than a year af­ter it was first pro­posed.

The city is mak­ing a $335 mil­lion bet that the ser­vice will at­tract mil­lions of pas­sen­gers trav­el­ing be­tween Man­hat­tan and wa­ter­front neigh­bor­hoods in Brook­lyn, Queens and the Bronx that are now a dis­tant walk from over­crowded sub­ways.

Trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture in the city has a ten­dency to take many years, if not decades, to get built, but in this case work­ers are un­der pres­sure to get the new fer­ries and docks built in a New York minute.

Hori­zon Ship­build­ing, in Bayou La Ba­tre, Alabama, has 100 em­ploy­ees — in­clud­ing 80 hired last sum­mer — work­ing to fill its or­der of 10 fer­ries for the 20-boat fleet. The rest are be­ing built at the Metal Shark ship­yard in Franklin, Louisiana, about 50 miles south­west of Ba­ton Rouge.

In­side Metal Shark’s huge boat-build­ing shed last week, sev­eral of the $4 mil­lion cata­ma­ran ves­sels were in var­i­ous stages of com­ple­tion. Sparks and smoke flew around work­ers’ pro­tected heads as they welded one light­weight alu­minum ferry frame.

Other work­ers stood be­tween the cata­ma­rans’ two pon­toons, sand­ing the rough metal. Elec­tri­cians were busy wiring the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. Cranes car­ried pieces of tub­ing to the ferry-to-be.

“A project like this is unique,” said Ju­nior Volpe, direc­tor of spe­cial projects for Horn­blower Inc., the San Fran­cisco-based com­pany that will op­er­ate the ferry sys­tem in part­ner­ship with New York City.

More than a year ago, when they were still ne­go­ti­at­ing the con­struc­tion of the fer­ries in such a short time pe­riod, “a lot of peo­ple were, like, ‘Wow, I don’t think this is ever go­ing to hap­pen.’ And to prove that things are pos­si­ble, here we are. We’re sit­ting on the first ferry that’s go­ing to be de­liv­ered here at Metal Shark — and it’s amaz­ing,” Mr. Volpe said.

City trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials say the new ferry fleet will speed up travel time in this city of is­lands by as much as twothirds and come at a com­pet­i­tive price — $2.75 — the same as a sub­way fare. That com­pares with the lim­ited ferry ser­vice that cur­rently takes com­muters and tourists across the Hud­son and East Rivers at $4 to $6 per ride.

New York’s fifth bor­ough, Staten Is­land, is served by its fa­mous free ferry ser­vice that of­fers about 23 mil­lion rides a year.

In an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Bla­sio said he hoped the new ferry ser­vice, along with a new street­car line he also has pro­posed, would help lighten the trans­porta­tion load for a city of 8.5 mil­lion that is ex­pected to grow by an­other half a mil­lion peo­ple in the com­ing years.

While Mr. de Bla­sio ac­knowl­edged the new ferry ser­vice’s ini­tial goal of 4.6 mil­lion an­nual rides per year is mod­est — the sub­way sys­tem han­dles 5.7 mil­lion rides on week­days — he was hope­ful the growth in rid­er­ship would be greater.

“If you build it,” he said, “they will come.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New York City is in­vest­ing $335 mil­lion in the City­wide Ferry Ser­vice, bet­ting that it will draw pas­sen­gers from neigh­bor­hoods, like Brook­lyn, Queens and the Bronx.

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