City officials: State sunk ferry

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Sen. Thomas M. McGee and Economic Development and Industrial Corporation Director James M. Cowdell talk about the loss of ferry service in Lynn.

BY THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Sen. Thomas M. McGee and EDIC/Lynn Executive Director James M. Cowdell fired back Wednesday at a Baker administration official who said a city request for $700,000 to operate a commuter ferry this summer came too late.

The money would have paid for a ferry to run from the Blossom Street extension dock for a third summer season..

Cowdell said the funding request was submitted on March 16 and placed on the state Seaport Economic Council’s June agenda for certain approval. A week later, EDIC received an email from the council requesting a sustainability study to explain how the operating expenses would be paid for going forward. But the city was given six months to complete it, he added.

Of Seaport Economic Council member Carolyn Kirk, Cowdell said, “For Ms. Kirk to say that we didn’t get the application in on time is a blatant falsehood. The rejection letter said the project cannot be funded, but never mentioned that we missed any deadline. For whatever reason somebody made a determination that it shouldn’t be funded.”

Kirk’s claim is one of several examples Cowdell and McGee underscored to amplify their objections to the Baker administration’s response to city efforts to sustain the popular ferry.

McGee said now the state is asking the city to come up with the cash to support the ferry’s operation. But he insists Lynn should not be required to make such a payment, emphasizing that about 80 percent of the riders come from Swampscott, Marblehead and Nahant.

The MBTA subsidizes three ferry services that serve Hingham-Boston, Hingham-Hull-Logan and the Charlestown Navy Yard-Long Wharf. For fiscal year 2015 the subsidy totaled about $3.7 million, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

“It’s unfair to say the city somehow dropped the ball on this,” McGee said. “The reality is, MassDOT could be finding an opportunity to pay for the service out of dollars available within the agency. The state can’t say to Lynn: ‘If you want a ferry, then you have to pay for it.’ We are not at fault, this is a transportation issue. This is not an amenity, this about us having transportation access in this region.”

Under former Gov. Deval Patrick, the Seaport Economic Council, provided $8.5 million to build the Blossom Street extension pier, where passengers board the boat, and operating expenses for the ferry for two years.

It’s clear that there are people at the MBTA who don’t want to be in the ferry business and don’t want to expand it because they don’t see it as a core business, McGee said.

“Are we supposed to lay off teachers, police officers, firefighters to fund a ferry?” Cowdell asked.

The pair noted how in March MassDOT suggested the city apply for $769,000 operating funds from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Committee, a federal program that provided $30 billion to fund more than 30,000 transportation related environmental projects.

The money was approved unanimously, but the grant was later withdrawn because it did not meet environmental requirements.

“The people involved in this were running us around for a year until the clock ran out,” said a frustrated McGee.

McGee and Cowdell stressed the Lynn ferry’s value as a component in a water transportation network that could ring Boston and help handle future regional transportation challenges.

Barry Bluestone, professor of public policy at Northeastern University, said his research shows that if nothing changes, the state’s highways will be clogged so badly by 2030 to be unpassable with 117,000 more commuters.

“We have to figure out how to get people into alternative transportation,” he said. “Other communities have very active water transportation that works and we need to add more ferries to our transportation matrix. The state picks up the tab for much of our transportation costs already. What’s the difference between the highway and ferry if it reduces the pressure on the highway?”

A spokesman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development declined comment and no one was made available from MassDOT.

In a statement, Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack said “MassDOT supports the city of Lynn’s efforts to establish regular ferry service to Boston.  But the Lynn Ferry is not an MBTA service.  To be fiscally responsible to the entire MBTA system, we must be cautious when expanding MBTA services.  However, MassDOT has offered to pay for the development of a sustainable business plan which would allow this ferry to run in the future.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at [email protected]

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