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Woods Hole: Freight traffic headed to Steamship Authority ferries at issue

WOODS HOLE — To the disappointment of some Falmouth community members, the Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority received no proposals for a contract to establish freight service from an off-Cape port to Martha’s Vineyard.

Members of the Falmouth community have long wanted such a service to shift some of the traffic away from Falmouth, which experiences the daily traffic of freight trucks traveling from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard.

Freight trucks load onto a Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority ferry, traveling from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard, in 2020. The ferry line's busy freight service traffic is a burden on Falmouth, according to some community members.
Freight trucks load onto a Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority ferry, traveling from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard, in 2020. The ferry line's busy freight service traffic is a burden on Falmouth, according to some community members.

“Disappointed, but not surprised,” said Falmouth resident Nathaniel Trumbull, a member of the Southeast MA Regional Transportation (SMART) Citizens Task Force.

Despite ongoing complaints from residents, the Steamship Authority plans to keep running its early morning freight ferry out of Woods Hole in 2021. Many have pushed for the boats to depart from New Bedford instead, or possibly at a not-so-early time from Woods Hole. But islanders have insisted on keeping things the way they are.
Despite ongoing complaints from residents, the Steamship Authority plans to keep running its early morning freight ferry out of Woods Hole in 2021. Many have pushed for the boats to depart from New Bedford instead, or possibly at a not-so-early time from Woods Hole. But islanders have insisted on keeping things the way they are.

History of the issue

The state Legislature created the Steamship Authority in 1960. Its purpose is to provide for “adequate transportation of persons and necessaries of life for the Islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.”

More: Falmouth residents express outrage over inaction, Steamship Authority schedule

It now operates a boat line between the ports of Woods Hole, in Falmouth, and Hyannis to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The Steamship Authority employs about 750 workers during the peak season and generates about $100 million in annual revenue, according to the Authority's website.

In 1999, the Steamship Authority passed a resolution to reduce freight traffic in Woods Hole and Hyannis using an off-Cape port. The authority began offering freight service between New Bedford and the Vineyard in 2001, but the route was cancelled a year later because the agency lost money. 

The number of freight trips through Woods Hole has continued to increase with no end in sight, said Doug Brown, a Falmouth Select Board member.  “I don’t think its sustainable to have Falmouth host the ever-increasing volume that goes to the Vineyard,” Brown said.
The number of freight trips through Woods Hole has continued to increase with no end in sight, said Doug Brown, a Falmouth Select Board member. “I don’t think its sustainable to have Falmouth host the ever-increasing volume that goes to the Vineyard,” Brown said.

Twenty years later, Falmouth still has no reprieve from the traffic and congestion. The number of freight trips through Woods Hole has continued to increase with no end in sight, said Doug Brown, a Falmouth Select Board member.

“I don’t think its sustainable to have Falmouth host the ever-increasing volume that goes to the Vineyard,” he said.

More: Steamship Authority changes schedule due to crack in ship

Request for Proposals

The Steamship Authority posted a Request for Proposals, or RFPs, for an off-Cape freight service to Martha’s Vineyard in April. The agency advertised the proposal locally and nationally for four months, but did not receive any bids by its Aug. 2 deadline, an authority news release indicated.

The lack of proposals is indicative of the challenging nature of such a service. The Steamship Authority issued a fair and flexible RFP and encouraged potential bidders to provide feedback if they felt parts of the request were overly stringent, authority spokesman Sean Driscoll said.

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The authority will be asking potential bidders for their opinions on the RFPs and review their feedback before considering next steps, he said.

Falmouth reaction to the RFP

The RFP was overly complex, inadequately advertised, and did not have adequate public information sessions, Trumbull said.

Part of the reason the RFP was unsuccessful is because the city of New Bedford is offering very little space at its port, only about a one-acre parcel, Brown said.

“Without any infrastructure on site for any potential bidder, I'm sure it would be a very expensive endeavor," he said.

Brown said he's hopeful New Bedford will offer more space to the Steamship Authority or a potential bidder. He also wants the Authority to connect with New Bedford officials and be proactive in asking for more options.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Steamship Authority receives no off-Cape freight service proposals