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LYNN

City nears funding goal on commuter ferry plan

$2m in hand, but $2.3m more needed

By Steven A. Rosenberg
Globe Staff / September 11, 2011

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LYNN - For the last decade, Lynn officials have pitched the idea of building a commuter ferry to anyone who would listen to them at the State House.

Now, armed with $2 million in state grants received over the last four years, the city could be just a month away from realizing its goal of constructing the first year-round daily commuter ferry between Lynn and Boston.

“This is something that can get done, and hopefully in the next year and a half we’ll get it over the finish line,’’ said state Senator Thomas McGee, a Lynn Democrat.

To date, the $2 million in state funds has come from the Seaport Advisory Council. The council meets twice a year to consider proposals and will convene again next month. Lynn officials hope a request for $2.3 million more in funds to complete the project will make it onto the agenda. Lauren Jones, a spokeswoman for Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray - who also chairs the Seaport Advisory Council - said next month’s meeting agenda for the council had not been set.

Murray could not be reached for comment. Jones declined to say if Murray would support the funding request, but did refer to his previous support for grants. “We have been supportive of this in the past, and we look forward to working with the city of Lynn as this project moves forward,’’ said Jones.

The site of the proposed ferry and dock is Blossom Street. These days, the street, which dead-ends at the ocean, is usually barren - save for a rarely used public boat ramp and an old platform that juts out into the water and serves as a haven for homeless people.

According to the proposal, the ferry could make the run to Boston in about 30 minutes. The plan calls for the site’s parking lot to hold about 300 cars, and a feasibility study concluded that a commuter ferry could draw around 700 daily commuters over a calendar year and up to 850 a day during the summer months. According to James Cowdell, executive director of Lynn’s Economic Development Industrial Corporation, at least 70 percent of the potential ferry commuters would come from Nahant, Swampscott, and Marblehead. He said the city is also exploring building a traffic light on the Lynnway that would allow commuters traveling south to drive to the ferry directly without having to make a U-turn further along on the road.

Cowdell said the project work has been scheduled in phases. In 2007, the city spent its first $750,000 grant to repave the Blossom Street parking lot and to construct a new boat ramp. Last month, it received $1.3 million from the state, and those subsidies will go to rebuilding a retaining beach wall. If the state grants the final $2.3 million needed for the project, the city would spend the funds on dredging and constructing a dock. Cowdell said funds for the commuter boat could also come from the state or the nonprofit he directs.

In recent years, Salem and Winthrop have added seasonal ferries and both communities have seen increased ridership as word has spread about the alternative transportation. Alison Nolan, general manager of Boston Harbor Cruises, which runs the Winthrop ferry, said she expects ridership from Winthrop to Boston to continue to grow. “I think it’s likely we’ll hit the 10,000-passenger mark,’’ said Nolan, who noted that 5,000 people took the ferry last summer.

Nolan said a commuter ferry’s business plan needs to be competitive with the cost of driving to Boston. She said that would have to be around $6, a fare that Lynn officials say is compatible with their plan. “Price is very important,’’ said Nolan.

Lynn officials envision the commuter ferry as one of the first steps toward revitalizing the city’s waterfront along the Lynnway, which is largely inaccessible to the public. For the last half-century, the waterfront has been lined with retailers, manufacturing companies, and a waste-water treatment plant.

In recent years, the city has rezoned the property to allow high-rise condos and worked with National Grid to remove high-tension wires that helped free up over 100 acres of waterfront land. While no major projects have been announced for the property, officials say the ferry could help spur economic development.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle; it will get people thinking of Lynn as a waterfront community,’’ said McGee.

State Representative Lori Ehrlich, whose district includes Swampscott and part of Lynn, said she would support using state funds for a ferry in Lynn. Ehrlich was part of a contingent of about 70 state and local officials who took a trial run on an MBTA commuter vessel last month from Lynn to Boston. “There’s great enthusiasm,’’ she said.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.com.