Ferry Terminal expansion breaks ground

A $79 million ferry terminal expansion project launched Thursday¬†at San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Building that will bring more service and new amenities to ferry commuters and tourists.

The Water Emergency Transportation Authority and Port of San Francisco broke ground today on a project that will create up to three new ferry gates and vessel berthing facilities and add improvements such as weather-protected canopies, a new plaza area south of the Ferry Building and extended pedestrian promenade areas.

The changes, which are expected to be completed by 2019, will support planned new ferry service to Richmond and Treasure Island and other locations now under study, as well as improve the experience for passengers waiting to board and expand the staging area for emergency water transit services.

Golden Gate Ferry and WETA currently each carry around 2.4 million passengers each year to and from the Ferry Building terminals alone.

WETA officials say the project is part of a $465 million planned investment in new infrastructure around the Bay Area, including new terminals, maintenance and operations facilities in Alameda and Vallejo and new, larger vessels with lower emissions and higher speeds.

WETA, a publicly funded ferry system that currently serves San Francisco, Oakland, South San Francisco, Alameda and Vallejo, has seen annual ridership grow by 74 percent to 2.7 million since 2012, authority officials said today. WETA, which currently has 12 vessels, plans to expand to a fleet of 44 vessels, 16 terminals and 12 routes by 2035.

The system is viewed as a crucial way to relieve congestion on the Bay Area’s busy bridges and transit systems.

Vice Admiral Jody Breckenridge, WETA board chair, said Thursday:

“We know from the surveys we do that most of our riders would be in cars if they weren’t in ferries.”

The ferry system is also viewed as a crucial part of the Bay Area’s disaster recovery plans, and could play a crucial role in the aftermath of any major earthquake, particularly if local bridges or transit systems are damaged.

Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said:

“Ferry service is going to be there if the big one hits. … We know that we have to have alternative ways to get in and out of The City.”

Port of San Francisco executive director Elaine Forbes today said plans for a Mission Bay ferry terminal have also been accelerated and it could be up and running by 2021. That terminal, which will be operated and maintained by WETA when it is completed, is expected to help serve the Golden State Warriors’ new Chase Center arena.

The expansion of the ferry system has the backing of business groups including the Bay Area Council. CEO Jim Wunderman today said it was important that funding for the ferry system be included in a planned regional transportation measure, RM3, which is expected to reach the ballot in 2018.

“Building out a robust regional ferry system is critical to addressing the Bay Area’s future transportation needs,” Wunderman said, describing the Bay as a “largely untapped resource for getting commuters to and from our major job centers.”