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  Of Ferries and Barges
February 17, 2014

Ferries and barges have been much in the news lately, because of the Google Barge construction at Treasure Island being stopped by BCDC and a Richmond developer’s proposal to bring private ferry service to Richmond. See http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Google-barge-must-be-moved-state-says-5201337.php and http://www.contracostatimes.com/west-county-times/ci_25035746/richmond-water-taxi-developer-looks-link-workers-san-francisco.

In fact, an invitation for Google to move their barge to Richmond is on the City Council agenda for tomorrow night.

So, here is the latest about barges and ferries in Richmond:

The Google Barge

To continue construction of the Google barge in Richmond, the Port of Richmond would have to secure a BCDC permit for maritime construction the same as Treasure Island. According to BCDC:

  • There are no BCBD permits for the City of Richmond that cover marine construction/boat building. The most that can be done under any of our permits would be repairs and/or maintenance.
  • If there was any interest in bring or being prepared for any type of boat building, the City would need to apply for a new BCDC permit to do so. Depending on the documents required, the process would be a minimum of 90-120 days (and a maximum of TBD).
  • The vessel is being constructed on a fairly typical barge similar to the Wapama so in theory it would fit at any of our facilities although given the height of 5 stories, I’m not sure what the draft is or would be and whether or not it would clear without dredging (another new permit).
  • The Google barge is considered by BCDC to be extensive, dock-sided, maritime construction and includes the process of constructing an entirely new vessel on the water so it stands alone from all other daily operational work. BCDC is open to discussions, but one would have to demonstrate that the activity in question (shipbuilding) has continued at either the basins or Terminal 3 since 1942 (roughly). Other than that a new permit would be required, but it’s the same scenario that Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) is faced with. All things being equal, TIDA could apply at the same time as Richmond and the barge would already be there. There is NO REQUIRMENT THAT IT BE MOVED IMMEDIATELY (contrary to media reports), only that a permit needs to be in place.


Richmond Ferry

The following information is from the San Francisco Bay water Emergency Transportation Authority:
1.    What is the status of the Richmond Terminal EIR, and what is the schedule for certification?
Environmental review for the project is underway and is nearing completion. WETA Staff is currently working with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to address potential air quality impacts through mitigation measures such as solar arrays on site. The CEQA Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration is anticipated to be published in Spring or Summer 2014. The Federal NEPA document is anticipated to be completed by Fall 2014.
2.    Assuming certification will occur, what is a reasonable projected schedule to begin service?
Final design, permitting and construction of the terminal facilities and vessels can start once the environmental approvals have been completed, operating and capital funding commitments have been secured and a shared-use agreement for the site is developed.  Terminal design/permitting/construction and vessel construction are both estimated to take between 2 and 3 years to complete once all approvals and funding are in place. 
3.    What is the anticipated cost for terminal improvements at Richmond? How will they be funded?
Terminal construction under a shared-use scenario at the Ford Building site is estimated to range between $8 and $12 million and service operation will require two vessels that would cost approximately $34 million, for a total project cost between $42 and $46 million. WETA has begun the process of identifying funds to support the capital costs associated with this project, which would likely come from a blend of Federal Transit Administration, State Proposition 1B and Regional Measure 2 funds (which would require a transfer of funds from Berkeley to Richmond – see below).
4.    What is the anticipated subsidy for Richmond operations? How will it be funded?
WETA relies on Regional Measure 1 and Regional Measure 2 bridge tolls administered by MTC to fund the majority of its operating needs.  These funds are currently all committed to existing service routes, and there are no excess operating funds to support new expansion routes.  New Richmond service would need to be funded with Measure J transportation sales tax funds and/or future transportation funding programs (such as a new bridge toll increment for transit).
Consistent with the draft CCTA White Paper on ferry services in Contra Costa County, the annual operating cost for Richmond ferry service is projected to be $3.4 million. The 10-year total cost for operations is $35.0 million.  Fare revenues are estimated to cover between 26% and 45% of these costs. The balance would need to be covered by Measure J sales tax funds. This amounts to an estimated $19 to $26 million dollar subsidy over the initial 10-year period. The subsidy requirement will likely be higher in the initial years of operation, as the service builds ridership.  As stated in the white paper, “ridership in the early years of service will likely be lower than what has been projected and would likely require additional funding…as it takes time to change people’s commute behavior and patterns.”
5.    How much is available from Contra Costa Measure J funds for the Richmond ferry, and can they be used for operations, equipment and/or shoreside improvements?
Initially Measure J identified $45 million (2004 $) to be used in West County for ferry service in Richmond and Hercules (or Rodeo) to San Francisco.  Because the funding is provided through a program category the funds would be available annually on a pay-as-you-go basis and calculated as 2.25% of actual sales tax receipts generated each year.  Based on the current revenue estimate adopted as part of the 2013 Measure J Strategic Plan, the program would generate $60.9 million in inflated dollars over the life of the Measure.  The funds are currently being collected in anticipation of the ferry service implementation.  Through FY 2012-13 approximately $6.4 million is set aside for West County ferry service.  How the funding is divided between Richmond and Hercules is to be decided between WETA and WCCTAC.  To date that decision has not been made.
According to the Measure J Expenditure Plan, the funds may be used for capital improvements (landside improvements, parking, lighting, etc), operations of the service, transit feeder service, way-finder signs, and/or other components of ferry service to be determined by WCCTAC and the Water Emergency Transportation Authority. 
6.    How much is available from Regional Measure 2 bridge toll funds for the Richmond ferry, and can they be used for operations, equipment and/or shoreside improvements?
There are no RM2 Bridge Toll funds programmed for Richmond service (capital or operating).  However, the RM2 program includes language to allow Berkeley capital funds, totaling $12 million for the purchase of two vessels, to be transferred to Richmond under certain conditions.  WETA staff is currently in the process of working with MTC and others to identify the process, timeline and requirements to shift these funds to Richmond and anticipates discussing this option with the WETA Board and others in the upcoming months.
7.    Are there boats available for the Richmond service?
No, WETA has limited spare vessels to support its existing operation and does not have extra vessels available to support new ferry service routes.  As a result, new vessels would need to be built to support Richmond service expansion.
8.    Under the law that set up WETA, can a local government agency or a private entity operate ferry service on SF Bay?
WETA has approval authority for all publicly operated ferry services in San Francisco Bay, with the exception of those routes operated by Golden Gate ferry.  Private ferry operations, specifically those that do not charge a fare and would be considered a “charter” service, are outside of the purview of WETA’s approval authority.