By John Burton |
HIGHLANDS — Seastreak commuter ferry is planning to introduce a larger vessel, capable of holding additional riders, for its Highlands route. But that raises some questions for the mayor.
Seastreak plans to incorporate an approximately 148-foot newly designed catamaran boat, able to hold up to 600 riders, into its New York City schedule.
According to Brett Chamberlain, Seastreak’s director of marketing, the company will be taking delivery of the larger craft in late November or early December. It will replace one of the boats currently used on the route.
“It is really motivated, in a large part, by seating,” said Chamberlain about the company’s decision to acquire the larger boat. The current crop of boats used on the route can hold up to 505 passengers, including crew. Many of those boats, however, only have interior seating for 350 passengers. “Particularly in winter,” Chamberlain acknowledged, “it’s tough to accommodate everyone,” especially for the 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. departures, he said, the busiest trips. The new catamaran boat will have interior seating for 500 and will allow for some additional passengers. But, Chamberlain said, “We’ll be able to accommodate about the same number of passengers we’re currently carrying, just more comfortably.”
For Mayor Rick O’Neil, though, the prospect of more ferry riders means more traffic, and he has questions about how the ferry service plans to handle parking and added traffic congestion around the ferry Shore Drive terminal.
“It’s already a parking problem down there,” O’Neil said, referring to the terminal and parking lots. He said he is convinced more customers means, “It’s going to be a problem.”
Any increased demand for parking or additional vehicles in the area “is definitely a concern for us,” said Highlands Acting Police Chief Robert Burton. (Robert Burton is cousin to reporter John Burton, who wrote this article.)
Seastreak has seen an increase in its ridership, Chamberlain said, in part as some commuters have sought out alternatives for their ride to and from work because of ongoing renovations and disruptions at Penn Station in New York City. More importantly, he said, “It’s a more comfortable way to travel,” that’s been leading to the higher usage.
Burton observed that increased ridership is reflected in traffic in the community, as vehicles snake along Shore Drive entering or departing Sea Streak’s Shore Drive docking area during morning and evening peak hours. Area residents and drivers have made their frustrations known on social media. “People really are complaining there,” Burton said, about traffic and parking, especially the spillover onto on-street spaces in the surrounding residential neighborhood.
Seastreak had initially hired an off-duty borough police officer to direct traffic, with the officer posted at the Shore Drive/Waterwitch Avenue intersection, at the borough’s entrance. The company discontinued the practice in 2006. But the post has been reinstituted for the busier summer months, according to Burton. Now the officer is stationed at the ferry’s main parking lot, directing traffic out of the site, with traffic moving at a better pace, Burton said.
“It seems like some of the complaints have definitely decreased based on the officers being out there,” noted borough administrator Brian Geoghegan.
Seastreak’s main parking lot, at 326 Shore Drive, can hold approximately 746 vehicles, according to the borough Planning Board initial resolution permitting the service. The earliest three departure trips appear to be filled to capacity, Burton observed.
But Seastreak, a couple of years ago, acquired an additional Shore Drive property, the former site of Doris and Ed’s restaurant, used now as an overflow parking lot, Chamberlain said. With the two lots, “We think at this time we have sufficient parking to accommodate the demand,” he said.
O’Neil sees it differently. “There’s just too much ridership and too little parking,” he said, adding any increase in demand will have to be addressed, O’Neil insisted.
“They’re a stakeholder in our town and we’re willing to work with them,” the mayor said of Seastreak, but adding, “They just can’t flood the town. It has to be done with consideration for all.”
In his previous conversations with the ferry service representatives, “They’ve been amenable with working with the town,” Geoghegan observed. Borough officials and those from Seastreak will likely speak in the near future and “We’re trying to come up with a solution that works best for everybody,” Geoghegan said.
Seastreak contracted with Incat Crowther, an Australia-based company, to design the larger boat. The vessel is being constructed by Gulf Craft, in Louisiana. No changes have to be made to the Highlands docking area, as the boat was designed to use the site, Chamberlain said.
This addition to the Seastreak’s fleet won’t have an effect on current prices, Chamberlain added.
Seastreak has been operating out of Highlands since March 2004.
This article was first published in the August 10-17, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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