New Mission Bay ferry terminal poised to shape neighborhood’s future transit

With the new UCSF Mission Bay hospitals, a planned Warriors arena and more than 6,000 homes on the horizon, Mission Bay is booming.

And that means one thing: it’s going to need more transit options.

That’s why Port of San Francisco officials are pushing for a new ferry terminal in the neighborhood that could open as early as 2022.

The Port Commission on Tuesday heard for the first time, they said, the possible future locations of a terminal which would see 10,000 daily ferry passengers to Mission Bay. The new terminal could cost anywhere between $32.5 million and $42.7 million to construct, according to planning documents, and would berth two ferries. It may also include a nearby water taxi landing.

“It will provide critical ferry service between the southern waterfront, Financial District, and the East and North Bays,” Winnie Lee, a port engineer, said of the new terminal, at the Port Commission’s meeting Tuesday.

Right now, San Francisco ferries dock at Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building. The new ferry building would provide a major link for Mission Bay to water-based transit.

In 2015, the Port hired COWI North America, a maritime consultant, to complete a study of potential sites for the new terminal, according to Port staff. That report was completed in March, and identified four sites as potential new ferry terminals, though one site has since been abandoned as a possibility.

The motion of the ocean remains a primary concern for engineers, because choppy waves could potentially slow down new ferries, said Lee, and not all of the possible ferry sites would be equally smooth.

The prime candidate for a new ferry terminal is Agua Vista Park, on 16th Street. Lee said a nearby harbor for BAE Systems, an aerospace company, creates a wind shield which keeps the waters calm.

Another possible site, on South Street between Piers 64 and 54, is problematic because weather could potentially impact ferry service.

“If we don’t install the breakwater, winter storms could shut down ferry service,” Lee said.

The third location, on the north side of Pier 54, may be shielded from the wind as well, like the first option. But reports say it is least favored because it is farthest away from central Mission Bay locations, like the Warriors arena. It may also require seismic upgrades.

Each location has its ups and downs, Port staff noted. Agua Vista Park is closer to the proposed Warriors stadium, for instance, while South Street is closer to the Mission Bay Muni station.

Staff said they favored the Agua Vista Park location, much to the concern of some Port commissioners.

“You’re starting an outreach project already having predetermined the location,” Commissioner Eleni Kounalakis told to interim Port Director Elaine Forbes.

Forbes promised to elicit more community input before a location is locked down.

Project lead and finances questioned

Even though the project is hardly a wink in the eye of engineers, it has already gained at least one detractor.

Veronica Sanchez, representing the local Masters, Mates and Pilots union, said the union took issue with the proposed terminal because the San Francisco Water Emergency Transportation Authority was not lead on the project.

“We would urge the Port to hit the pause button a bit, and see how the project could be better managed,” Sanchez told the Port Commission.

But Ernest Sanchez, spokesperson for WETA, said it’s unlikely the organization will lead the project and WETA is already a member of the team developing the terminal

“I don’t think it’s really in the cards,” he said. “Our point of view is that it’s a Port of San Francisco project.”

The source of funding for the project also remains up in the air. Forbes, the interim Port director, said, “We’re looking to not pay for the project, to be blunt about it.”

Though planning documents note the port will kick in $3.47 million, Forbes said the rest of the money may come from federal and state grants, as well as “private contributions.”

Community wants ferries sooner

Mission Bay businesses need more transit as fast as possible, said Patrick Valentino, president of the South Beach Mission Bay Business Association.

“I think there’s a pent-up nervousness about what [Mission Bay] will look like a few years from now,” he said. The area has boomed, he noted.

Sanchez, of WETA, said its many ferry routes on the San Francisco Bay saw a “stupendous” ridership increase, from 1.4 million annual riders seven years ago to the current 2.4 million annual riders.

“One thing we’d need to do is add additional vessels,” Sanchez said.

Right now WETA has two, 400-passenger vessels under construction, Sanchez said, and the organization will solicit proposals to build three more vessels by the fall.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency also has plans to increase transit in the area. According to planning documents, Mission Bay will play host to Bus Rapid Transit by 2018, and the T-Third may see expansion, among other efforts. Caltrain also may be electrified by 2020.

Still, the ferries are crucial, Valentino said.

“To the extent that they can jump-start ferry terminals, that’d be fantastic. I don’t know what it takes to do. But to get it there ahead of time, it would be pretty important,” he said.

Forbes said the project has “a four-year to five-year horizon, due to permitting issues,” and may take until 2022. Commissioners at the meeting wanted to slow down the project for more community input.

Valentino noted the new Warriors Arena will likely arrive years before a ferry terminal.

“If we can get an arena done by 2019,” he said, “we should be able to get a temporary ferry terminal.”

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