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Officials to request interim ferry service for Lynn

LYNN — Ferry service could return this summer.

Mayor Thomas M. McGee and the state delegation are planning to request that the state approve interim ferry service from Lynn to Boston to ease traffic congestion caused by the ongoing construction work on the Tobin Bridge and Chelsea Curves section of Route 1.

The service would run while the city works with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to release a Request for Proposals to procure a vessel for year-round, long-term service, which would use the city’s unused ferry terminal on Blossom Street Extension.

Funds to purchase a dedicated vessel are available from a $4.5 million grant the city was awarded in 2016, but some officials are saying the grant likely will not cover the entire cost and more funds will be needed.

“The reality is we’re not going to have a new boat for the season, so that’s more of looking towards next season,” said State Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn). “We can’t just say when we get a new boat, we’ll get service. We need service now and then (we’ll aim to) improve service with a new boat.”

McGee said he’s sending a letter to MassDOT and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to request that they use construction mitigation funds to operate the ferry.

“For residents of Lynn and the entire North Shore region, who already face congested roadways and rush hour commuter rail trains and buses at full capacity, water transportation would provide a public transit alternative as critical mitigation during scheduled bridge repair work that is already underway,” McGee said in a statement.

“I feel strongly that left unaddressed, the effect of this project will result in regional gridlock and the subsequent inability of people to get to and from work, doctors’ appointments, schools and tourist attractions in a reasonable amount of time will have a negative impact on our regional economy.”

Crighton and State Rep. Peter Capano (D-Lynn) said the Lynn delegation is also planning to send a similar letter. Crighton said officials have to demonstrate to the state that any mitigation projects, such as interim ferry service, are offsetting the negative impacts from the Tobin Bridge project. There’s a strong argument for it, Crighton said.

Capano said it’s his hope that the interim ferry service would be year-round until the work on the bridge is completed in 2021, but Crighton said it would likely be based on the precedent of a past pilot seasonal ferry service in Lynn, which ran from May to October until it was cut by Gov. Charlie Baker last summer, who cited a lack of ridership.

Capano said the best option to offset traffic congestion would be the long-discussed Blue Line extension into Lynn, but in the meantime, he’s advocating for additional commuter trains that stop in Lynn, so trains are not always full.

To avoid traffic, Capano said people are being advised to take the train in the morning to Boston for work, but a lot of times, the train doesn’t stop in Lynn because it’s full.

Without any mitigation, McGee said congestion would only worsen. Year-round ferry service with more frequent departures and the ability to use monthly MBTA commuter passes would “encourage mode shift in commuters and result in fewer cars on the road, and fewer people left on the train platforms unable to board the commuter rails at full capacity.”

“There is both a demand for more robust ferry service with greater connectivity to the MBTA transit system and the opportunity to provide it,” McGee said in a statement.

With an aim of restoring long-term, year-round service, McGee said the city is in the process of procuring a vessel. The RFP is being finalized, including determining desired specifications of the boat, and is expected to be released this summer.

But it’s not all smooth sailing for officials, with a deadline approaching on their ability to use the $4.5 million grant to purchase a vessel before losing the funds.

“All I know is they’re supposed to be writing (an RFP) and there is a deadline for the money to be used for the boat,” said Ward 7 Councilor Jay Walsh. “I do not know the deadline and no one is really telling (the City Council) either.”

Crighton said the deadline is not clear, but there’s not much time for them to get it done. Another potential problem, he said, is officials suspect there may be more funds needed for a new boat beyond the grant.

“We’ll work with our legislative colleagues and the (mayoral) administration to find what additional dollars we need,” Crighton said. “We can’t afford to leave $4.5 million on the table.”

The Item reached out to a representative from Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding in Somerset for an estimate on what building a ferry would cost. Tim McAuliffe, the engineering liaison, said each boat is different and the costs are dependent on its specific variables, such as carrying size, mechanics and air conditioners.

“The service situation the MBTA faces versus Lynn is significantly different because the MBTA route is mostly run in a protected route,” said McAuliffe. “Whereas Lynn would be a more exposed route and I also heard they’re looking for a larger carrying capacity.”

To garner more support, McGee said he was planning to reach out to the City Council and the business community to send their own letters to the state requesting renewed ferry service. Businesses have already done so, based on a letter shared with The Item by Gordon Hall, chairman of the Lynn Business Partnership and an Essex Media Group director.

“Following a work plan created by MassDOT to assist Lynn through the process of federal procurement, MassDOT continues to work with Lynn to release a Request for Proposal for a vessel that will meet Lynn’s unique needs and the city’s desired service characteristics,” said MassDOT spokesman Maxwell Huber in a statement.

“The release of this procurement document will allow Lynn to test the market and establish a cost and timeline of the delivery of the city’s vessel, should the city of Lynn choose to proceed. This is one of many necessary steps toward spending Lynn’s federal grant.”

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