Berkeley City Council approves memorandum to expand ferry service to Berkeley Pier

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Berkeley City Council authorized City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley to execute a memorandum of understanding with the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, or WETA, on March 12, which would allow Williams-Ridley to accept up to $250,000 from WETA to conduct a study about the feasibility of expanding ferry service to the public recreation pier at the Berkeley Marina.

Before the $250,000 can be allocated toward the study – which is expected to cost a total of about $330,000 — the WETA board must approve the memorandum when it meets April 4, according to Scott Ferris, director of the city Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department.

The memorandum cited a draft study, which stated that current options for retrofitting the Berkeley Municipal Pier could cost anywhere between $17 million and $55 million. A PowerPoint presentation at the meeting claimed that retrofitting the city’s existing recreation pier is a challenge.

According to Ferris, the Berkeley Pier has been closed to the public since 2015, and plans for the retrofitting of the pier have been in the works since 2015.

“The Berkeley Pier is something a lot of Berkeley residents care about,” Ferris said. “Collaboration could help us rebuild the pier.”

He added that the first phase of the study examined the possibility of rebuilding the pier; the second phase dove into the elements in the water, and the third phase is currently studying the feasibility of expanding ferry service to the Berkeley Pier. WETA is expected to receive up to $300 million for one-time capital construction projects and $35 million per year for the operation of an expanded regionwide ferry system, allocated from funds in Regional Measure 3, according to the memorandum.

Ferris estimated that it will take about six to eight months to complete the study, at which point the project will be opened to public engagement, which is expected to last another six months. If WETA approves the agreement with Berkeley, the study will begin shortly after, said WETA Public Information and Marketing Manager Thomas Hall.

He added that Berkeley was identified in WETA’s 20-year strategic plan as a potential ferry market and that the January ferry launch was a success. District 7 Councilmember Rigel Robinson expressed similar excitement at the prospect of bringing ferry service to Berkeley.

“I’m very excited by this first step in the process,” Robinson said in an email. “We need creative new transportation options to shorten commutes and ease congestion.”

The memorandum said ferry ridership is expected to complete about 1,589 trips daily by 2035, adding that the ferries will incorporate the most environmentally-friendly technology feasible and could potentially carry up to 400 people.

Contact Leon Chen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @leonwchen.