South City’s ship isn’t coming in soon

Funding shortfalls are threatening to sink the opening of South City’s ferry terminal.

The $46 million project, originally scheduled to be completed by December 2008 and later pushed back to early 2009, has been $5 million short since the terminal’s design was approved by the City Councilin January. Hailed as a future landmark of San Mateo County, the terminal will connect Oyster Point Marina to Jack London Square in Oakland and is set to receive $26 million from federal grants and bridge toll increases as well as $15 million from Measure A, the county’s sales tax resolution approved in 2006. The terminal, touted as a great alternative to workers commuting to the city’s biotech hub, is now slated to open at the end of 2009.

But recently, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority said it will postpone releasing the $15 million until the newly minted San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority — the agency overseeing the operations of all ferry terminals in the Bay Area, except for ferries operated by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District — secures the remaining $5 million.

“I realize that people are going to be disappointed, but it’s not like we don’t have public transportation that can get people across,” said South City Councilmember Karyl Matsumoto, who sits on the county’s Transportation Authority board. “We can afford to wait anddo it right.”

Further delays are on the horizon. If the WETA does not secure the funds and construction doesn’t begin this summer, the first stage of the project, which consists of driving piles that hold the terminal into the mud at Oyster Point, is in jeopardy. Initial construction must be finished by November before the beginning of fish spawning season, said Steve Castleberry, CEO of WETA. Otherwise, construction cannot begin until the end of the spawning season in the spring, putting off service another half a year, possibly until 2010.

Castleberry has assured council members that the agency will receive the $5 million from Prop 1B — a state infrastructure bond passed in 2006 that allocates money toward water transit emergency response systems — by this summer.

“With a significant growth of the biotech industry that’s bringing more employees here, time is of the essence,” said Robert Johnson, harbormaster at Oyster Point Marina. “Every month of delay, the cost of the project will also be going up because the cost of metals and construction materials has gone up significantly.”

svasilyuk@examiner.com  

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