Oct. 05–HYANNIS — An early-morning freight ferry will still run from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard next summer, but it may be a quieter affair for neighbors who have long complained about the traffic noise it generates.
Officials with the Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority are proposing to ban trucks 40 feet and larger from the 5:30 a.m. trip leaving the Woods Hole terminal. Although the early-morning freight boat would carry more smaller trucks as a result, the move could result in a lower overall level of noise both from the truck traffic coming down Woods Hole Road and from the ferry terminal as the boat is loaded.
The ferry line will offer incentives to trucking companies that send their larger trucks on ferries later in the day, General Manager Robert Davis said Wednesday at the boat line’s Port Council meeting. From Monday to Thursday, trucks 40 feet and longer using the bulk freight reservation system can book passage on certain late-day trips at the rate offered to shorter trucks, which in 2017 was $154.50. That translates into a savings of between $19.50 per trip for a 40-foot truck to a $105 discount for a 60-foot truck.
“It’s not very feasible to think that many people will take advantage of it, but we’ll give it a try to see if it works,” Davis said.
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The Steamship Authority also plans to add the freight boat Sankaty to the summer schedule, starting with a 6:45 a.m. trip to Vineyard Haven designated for trucks bringing hazardous materials onto the island. The 5:30 a.m. freight trip had been a hazmat run in the summer, but the ban on larger vehicles will necessitate the use of the Sankaty, Davis said. The vessel will run three to four round trips each weekday during the summer season.
General Counsel Steve Sayers said adding the Sankaty to the summer schedule will add about $250,000 to the nearly $98 million in 2018 operating costs because the boat line is not expecting any additional truck traffic as a result of the added trips. It also means the boat line will be without a spare freight vessel in the summer — the plan had been to berth the Sankaty at the Steamship Authority’s Fairhaven maintenance terminal and use it only as needed.
“It’s going to be expensive, but we think it’s worth it,” Sayers said. “It will give us the ability to manage the trucks better at the terminal itself and will bring less congestion early in the morning.”
The boat line had already cut the 5:30 a.m. ferry from next year’s early summer and late summer operating schedules but could not do so during the height of the season, Sayers said. The 2018 summer schedule runs from June 16 to Sept. 7.
For years, the early-morning freight boat has been a source of controversy for Woods Hole residents who have complained about noise and pollution. The Steamship Authority has taken several steps to mitigate the problems, including enforcing a “no idling” policy and maneuvering traffic to eliminate the need for the trucks to use their backup alarms. But the ferry line insists that it cannot eliminate the trip at the height of the summer season.
“If we could have, we wouldn’t have the 5:30 (boat),” Sayers said. “When you look at the occupancy percentages of all the trips between Woods Hole and Martha’s Vineyard from the beginning of the day to 7 at night, we’re essentially at full capacity. There’s no way we can eliminate that 5:30 trip.”
The ferry line also is examining the re-establishment of freight service from New Bedford to Martha’s Vineyard as a way to ease truck traffic through the Woods Hole terminal, but the service depends on finding a private freight carrier to run the route and millions of dollars in repairs to the New Bedford State Pier, the likely location for the freight boats to dock.
The Port Council passed a positive recommendation on the changes, but the Steamship Authority’s board will need to approve the schedule and the recommendations before they are finalized. The board meets Oct. 17 in Oak Bluffs.
— Follow Sean F. Driscoll on Twitter: @seanfdriscoll.
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