Plans for Berkeley ferry move forward as transportation board approves study

Leonie Leonida/Staff

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The board of directors of the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, or WETA, voted Thursday to launch a feasibility study to look into establishing a ferry terminal in the Berkeley Marina.

Bringing the ferry — which currently serves Vallejo, Oakland, Alameda Main Street, Richmond, Harbor Bay and Mare Island — to Berkeley is a project largely supported by many community members, according to Nelson Lam, associate civil engineer of the city Department of Parks, Recreation & Waterfront. According to City Councilmember Susan Wengraf, the ferry would provide Berkeley with new job growth opportunities for commuters as well as a crucial emergency evacuation route.

“I feel we have a large level of support from the city of Berkeley,” said WETA senior transportation planner Michael Gougherty. He added that the agreement between the two parties was passed unanimously at the Berkeley City Council meeting on March 12.

According to Gougherty, WETA has agreed to contribute $250,000 to holding a feasibility study. The city of Berkeley already allocated $330,000 for the project and will be adding $110,000 toward the study.

The measure to approve the study passed with a 4-1 vote, with only board member Nicholas Josefowitz in opposition. However, many board members, including Josefowitz, had concerns about the project and said they hoped some of the ambiguities would be answered through the study.

“I’m definitely interested in the 67,000 jobs in Berkeley, the lab and the major university,” said board member Jeff DelBono. “Like, everyone is asking, ‘How many people would actually use the ferry service?’ But that would be answered in the feasibility survey.”

Josefowitz specifically mentioned the Berkeley Marina’s lack of opportunity for housing development near the waterfront. He said the Bay Area’s transportation crisis needs to be solved in conjunction with the housing crisis and said the marina’s lack of proximity to homes and commercial areas worried him.

Lam said the city of Berkeley is working on a project with Caltrans to assess how to improve pedestrian access to the marina with the Interstate 580 highway team. Berkeley Economic Development Manager Jordan Klein added that the West Berkeley shuttle agreed to expand its route to include the ferry terminal if it is built.

According to Lam, the agreement is mutually beneficial because it would help both entities accomplish their goals, with WETA’s being meeting its system expansion policy and strategic plan and Berkeley’s being working toward its climate action plan and complying with the local hazard policy.

The project is currently in the planning phase, and future phases — including design, construction and operation — will require agreements from both parties, according to Gougherty. He added that the project will be terminated if it is not feasible.

“If I had all the money in the world, I would like to see a ferry service everywhere,” DelBono said. “I think the fact that Berkeley clearly wants to have water transit is a really great thing, and I think we should figure out a way to deliver that.”

Contact Katherine Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.