Bill pending to upgrade Bay Area ferries

The governor has until Thursday to sign a bill that would upgrade Bay Area ferry systems, providing ferry riders with additional service, new terminals and better schedules. If SB 976 passes, it will create the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, a new transportation authority that will encompass all water transit, including emergency transportation, Bay Area Council spokesman John Grubb said.

The transportation authority will have the authority to plan and prepare for a major disaster, as well as operate a ferry system that will cross the Bay, Grubb said. SB 976 was presented by state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-East Bay, and the Bay Area Council, a public policy group, sponsored the bill.

The Bay Area Council began to formulate a plan for a new ferry transportation district after Hurricane Katrina, Grubb said. After watching the devastation in New Orleans, destruction that state and federal agencies were ill equipped to handle, members began to inventory how prepared the Bay Area is for the next major earthquake, Grubb said.

According the U.S. Geological Survey, there is a two-thirds chance that the Bay Area will suffer a large earthquake, similar to the 1906 earthquake, within the next 25 years. When this quake occurs, bridges spanning the Bay will most likely be closed due to damage, even with the retrofit procedures transit districts are undertaking.

In conjunction with bridge closures, most major freeways surrounding the Bay have been built on wetlands that were filled in with dirt, which will essentially “turn to Jell-O,'' when a large quake hits, Grubb said. Highways and other roads surrounding the Bay will then essentially be impassable, Grubb claims. With the destruction of conventional transportation, emergency vehicles and other support systems will have to turn to water transit to dispatch equipment and services around the Bay.

According to Grubb, members of the Bay Area Council looked at the state of ferry and boat services across the Bay and realized that we are “woefully unprepared'' to respond to a major earthquake. There are not enough functioning boats on the Bay to replace even one nonfunctioning bridge, let alone the collapse of major freeways.

SB 976 will not only consolidate the three state-run ferry agencies operating on the Bay, but it will expand the system to include more boats, terminals and routes, Grubb said.

Vallejo Bay Link, the Alameda/Oakland Ferry and the Harbor Bay Ferry systems will become part of the transportation authority under the bill. Golden Gate Transit, which operates their ferries using toll funds, will not be included under the new transportation authority. However, in the event of an emergency it would turn management over to the transportation authority, according to Grubb.

Ferry systems that are operating now are working on an “old model of the Bay Area where everyone commutes to San Francisco,'' Grubb said. The modern workforce is much more diverse and there needs to be a variety of routes encompassing the entire bay. Within the new transportation authority the ferry system would be much more comprehensive, with ferries operating out of the peninsula, South Bay, East Bay, North Bay and San Francisco.

“We hope and anticipate that the governor will sign the bill,'' Grubb said, “especially because in his state of the state speech this year he says that the San Francisco Bay area needs a new emergency transportation network.''

Both the state senate and state assembly passed SB 976, according to Grubb. Gov. Schwarzenegger has until Thursday to sign the bill into law.

— Bay CIty News

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