Lynn officials aim to launch a new ferry service to Boston by the end of May


January 20, 2014
By Jon Chesto/Boston Business Journal

James Cowdell hasn’t forgotten the skeptics. Like the fabled Blue Line extension, a ferry service to Lynn has been one of those fantastic dreams that had seemed out of reach for this working-class city. But now, the executive director of the city’s Economic Development & Industrial Corp. is in a prime position to make this vision of a water route to Boston a reality.

“The Lynn people are the worst critics,” Cowdell tells me. “They would say there’s never going to be a ferry in the city of Lynn. Those same people are saying (now), ‘When is that ferry coming?’”

image of a ferry traveling on water
The success of the South Shore ferries has helped inspire Lynn officials to push for ferry service between Boston and the city of Lynn.

If Cowdell has his way, the answer to that question will be by the end of May. Cowdell says the EDIC is planning to put out requests for bids for ferry operators next month, and he wants to hire an operator by early April. Local officials are also in talks with the MBTA about linking the ferry, which would run year round, with the T’s commuter “zone” system. They’re also trying to line up some state subsidies to help defray the costs of running the ferry during the first few years.

The trip would last between 25 and 30 minutes, though a final destination in Boston hasn’t been determined yet. (Rowes Wharf and Long Wharf are the logical candidates.) Unlike the Salem ferry, which only runs in warmer months, the Lynn ferry could run year-round because only a small portion of the trip would be exposed in open water, before the Boston-bound boats round the bend behind the giant eggs of Deer Island and enter Boston Harbor. Cowdell envisions at least two trips in the morning and two more trips in the evening, with the potential for excursions to the Boston Harbor islands on weekends. Parking would be free: Thanks to a property acquisition on the EDIC’s part, there’s now room for at least 300 parking spaces at the future ferry terminal at the end of Blossom Street, sandwiched between busy Route 1A and the ocean.

That this project has made it this far is in no doubt at least partially due to the influence of Sen. Thomas McGee, who is the co-chairman of the Legislature’s transportation committee. Cowdell says the waterfront upgrades necessary for the project have totaled $6 million, including $5 million from state and federal sources (mainly through the state’s Seaport Advisory Council) and nearly $1 million from the EDIC.

Local officials were inspired by the success of the Hingham ferry and the shipyard redevelopment that the ferry helped spur in that South Shore town. McGee has vivid memories of the South Shore commuters who vigorously defended the boat service when it was on the chopping block in 2012, and he was impressed by their passion for it.

A number of questions remain, but perhaps the biggest one is how much the fare will cost. (The Hingham-Boston trip, by comparison, is $8, and a one-way ticket on the train from Lynn is $9.) McGee tells me he is currently involved with negotiations that include the MBTA and the Seaport Advisory Council about subsidizing the operations for at least two or three years, to help get enough of a critical mass so the ferry service can be self-sustaining based on revenue from riders.

Cowdell’s vision doesn’t end with the boat rides. He wants to see a two-story ferry terminal developed, with ticketing offices and rider amenities on the first floor, and a restaurant with ocean views on the second. That project would go up on the EDIC’s six-acre area. And Cowdell sees bigger changes afoot along Lynn’s underutilized waterfront, with the thought that the ferry service would spur private developments there such as condo projects.

“We’ve already had developers come to us looking in this area, specifically because the commuter ferry is going there,” he says. “We’re really excited about this project. We think it’s going to change that entire area of the waterfront.”

The ferry service turned out to be far more feasible than the fabled Blue Line extension, in part because other communities didn’t need to get involved, and in part because the infrastructure demands are far less expansive than they would be for bringing a new subway line to the city. McGee, however, hasn’t given up on the Blue Line extension, either. The increasing activity in Logan Airport and the corresponding dwindling of parking should help buttress his case. But for now, McGee is ready to savor this victory, something he says has been at least a dozen years in the making. “I’ve been talking about this ferry for a long time,” McGee says. “I think people were really skeptical that it would never happen, but I think people are very excited about it now.”

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