By Skye H. McFarlane
If seeing is believing in the delay-ridden world of New York City construction, then commuters and residents may finally be gaining some faith that the new, permanent ferry terminal in Battery Park City is on its way.
This week, a floating crane began installing above-water base pieces for the 32,000 square foot barge structure, which, according to a Port Authority spokesperson, should open outside the New York Mercantile Exchange in March or April 2007. The temporary terminal opposite Rockefeller Park will close as soon as the new one opens.
“I say thank goodness and it’s about time,” said Rosalie Joseph, co-president of the Battery Park City Neighbors and Parents Association.
The ferry terminal project has been plagued by controversy and delays, with an original budget of $48 million swelling to $69.1 million in the process. Previous project deadlines of December 2005, April 2006 and January 2007 have all fallen by the wayside. And because most of the construction work has taken place underwater or off site, it has been hard for neighborhood residents to sense the progress.
“I really don’t think they were doing anything,” said Magdalena Hasiec, a resident and mother of two. “It’s good news, a little bit anyways after all those years.”
Originally funded in 2000, the project began in the summer of 2003 with the removal of the old terminal outside the NYMEX and the installation of a temporary floating terminal just north of the old one. Though it only moved about 100 yards, the temporary dock floated into a sea of controversy. The new (current) location was directly in front of Rockefeller Park lawns and a children’s playground.
Downtown Express photo by Milo Hess
Local parents worried that the diesel exhaust from the ferry boats would harm their children and adult residents were simply annoyed that the smelly black smoke was floating across their park. Protests were held and petitions signed, but the temporary terminal remained as the new terminal ran into snags.
“It’s funny that it is going on in front of all the green buildings,” said Hasiec, referring to the three environmental residential towers that sit directly behind Rockefeller Park.
In 2005, Janet Cox of the Port Authority blamed delays on a conflict with the project’s local contractor. On Wednesday, Port Authority spokesperson Steve Coleman said that the holdups stemmed from a difficult and complex welding process. Whatever the reasons, the project was reassigned to a new contractor. While crews have been periodically working at the B.P.C. site, removing old foundations and installing new pilings, the terminal barge itself is being assembled in Corpus Christi, Texas.
During the construction process, NY Waterway has worked to alleviate the diesel smoke issue in its own way, by overhauling its ferry boats to use low-emissions diesel engines and cleaner fuel. In 2003, 63 percent of the company’s boats were using the new technology. By fall 2005, that number was up to 70 percent. Now, according to NY Waterway spokesperson Pat Smith, only two or three of the boats that service the Battery Park City terminal still emit the dirtier diesel exhaust.
“We’ve made significant overhauls to make sure the engines run as clean as possible,” Smith said. “The brand new marine diesel engines that were put in exceed current and projected federal emissions standards.”
In addition to moving the ferry exhaust farther from the park, the new terminal will offer many improvements. The fabric-roofed facility will be larger, more stable, and feature heat, restrooms and a concession area. It will also have five docking slips (compared to three at the current terminal), allowing it to service 16,000 passengers per hour.
The current terminal services 6,800 tickets (a little more than 3,400 people, since many commuters ride twice a day) each day through its main ferry lines run by NY Waterway and BillyBey Ferry Company. A few hundred more customers come through on the Liberty Water Taxi and New York Water Taxi lines.
The increased terminal capacity brings about the enticing opportunity for expanded service or new ferry lines. While NY Waterway did not want to discuss specifics, Smith made it clear that service expansion could be a possibility. In the past, there have been talks about adding ferry service to one or more New York area airports, but most local residents are pressing for a return of the weekend service to New Jersey, which was suspended after 9/11.
“Increased service would be a wonderful idea,” said Joseph, who like many Downtown residents, has family in the Garden State. “There is no weekend service and that’s a problem. It would be wonderful to have more access to New Jersey and to have more frequent service for the people who live in the area who might want to go shopping or to see family, et cetera.”
Along with the fate of new ferry lines, the destiny of the wooden fence that blocks off access to Rockefeller Park from the west is also up in the air. The fence was erected by the Battery Park City Authority to keep ferry commuters from cutting across, and thereby trampling, the grass. However, the fence may not come down once the new terminal opens. B.P.C.A. spokesperson Leticia Remauro said that a decision on the fence will be made once the new terminal’s design and traffic patterns become clear.
“The tentative plans are for there to be a clear path for commuters, but it depends on the final configuration,” Remauro said.
Either way, commuters and residents alike look forward to a new, improved and moved terminal this spring.
“Hey, if I can get a cup of coffee and not freeze to death out here at night, I’m happy,” said Jessica Tedson, who lives in Hoboken and works in the World Financial Center. “Plus, I’ll be that much closer to work.”