Martinez Mayor’s Message
by Rob Schroder
Oct 03, 2013 | 513 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Up until the opening of the first span of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge in 1962, water transport of some kind had been operating between Martinez and Benicia since 1847. When Interstate 680 and the bridge were completed, the State of California deeded the Highway 21 right of way to the cities and towns it passed through. Downtown Martinez and the ferry landing were bypassed and motorists buzzed across the bridge spanning the Carquinez Straits in only a few minutes. It was not long until ferry service was terminated once and for all.

In the decades that followed, most transportation improvements were to the roads and highways. Although the BART system began operations in the 1970’s, other passenger rail systems were shut down and tracks were removed. It was looking as if we were becoming almost exclusively dependent on the automobile, at least until the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and the collapse of a section of the Oakland span of the Bay Bridge. After the earth shook for those 15 seconds, all types of alternate forms of transportation became very important and appealing. Ferry service between San Francisco and Oakland, which had ended decades before, was revived during the month-long closure of the Bay Bridge as an alternative to the overcrowded BART. A ferry terminal was built in Alameda, and the Army Corps of Engineers dredged a suitable ferry dock at the Berkeley Marina.

Out of this tragedy the Water Transit Authority (WTA) was born and then re-born as the Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA). The system has now been expanded to include Vallejo, South San Francisco, Harbor Bay, Pier 41, AT&T Park and Angel Island. Plans are in the works for extensions to Redwood City, Richmond, Antioch, Hercules and Martinez.

WETA has been working on extension to Martinez for the last several years. In its current capital budget, WETA continues to include $812,500 for Martinez Environmental/Design, of which $212,000 has been spent with $550,500 for work yet to be completed.

The Central Contra Transportation Authority (CCTA) is another transportation agency that has now started to evaluate water transit in Contra Costa. The CCTA has undertaken its own study as part of determining CCTA future financial support. The study is reviewing proposed capital costs, operation costs, projected ridership and other elements of the proposed system. This study should be completed by next August. Following the completion of the CCTA study, WETA intends to move forward on a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Martinez on the environmental and design work.

One of the challenges to bringing ferry service back to Martinez has been the projected ridership of the system. Originally, the numbers looked very strong and would support a terminal in Martinez, but subsequently, those numbers were revised and things did not look so good. Since the BART strike, things have radically changed. Over the four days of the BART shutdown, the Bay Ferry system carried 73,825 passengers, a 268% increase over average weekday volumes. The Alameda/Oakland run showed the most dramatic gains with average increases of up to 500%. Vallejo (which is a similar route to what Martinez will be) saw increases of up to 60%. During the recent Bay Bridge closure, the numbers are not as high, but overall ridership was double normal weekday passenger load with the most active being Vallejo.

These developments show a positive development for bringing back ferry service to Martinez and other Contra Costa communities.

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