Carteret to join NJ’s developing commuter ferry network

Elected officials announced a $6 million federal grant that’ll buy a ferryboat for Carteret. The borough’s building a commuter ferry terminal to be constructed along the Arthur Kill Channel across from Staten Island. NJ Transit will use the grant to buy a 299-seat passenger ferry, and lease it back to the borough for a buck a year. It’ll be another option for frustrated commuters.

“There are times when they are stuck at the rail line or they’re stuck at the bus terminal for two or three hours waiting to get out. We’ve all been into Manhattan, we’ve all taken NJ Transit, we’ve all recognized the need for additional infrastructure,” said Carteret Mayor Daniel Reiman.

The mayor says he expects operators like NY Waterways will bid to operate the ferry service and provide additional boats to run on the hour between Carteret and Manhattan’s Pier 9 and 11, although transportation experts note that larger ships in the channel could create delays.

Carteret’s only the latest waterfront city to hook into a growing regional ferry system operating between the Jersey coast and Manhattan. Bayonne just got a $650,000 grant to add another ferry terminal. It’s a developing network with a larger purpose.

“It also allows for, God forbid, as the senator mentioned, some sort of future emergency or need to do a mass evacuation or get residents or commuters out of Manhattan,” Reiman said.

In one worst-case scenario, if the century-old commuter train tunnels under the Hudson River, that are already corroded by Sandy, could suffer catastrophic failure, a fleet of ferries could help reroute commuters.

“There would have to be a surge of ferry traffic. That also means having the infrastructure in place to be able to deal with such a surge. So while, for example, NY Waterways and other ferry operators slow down during the course of their day until the high peak hours, early in the morning, late in the afternoon, they might have to run all day long,” said Sen. Bob Menendez. “It might be a good opportunity for NJ Transit to understand that it can be a great asset to their overall transportation system.”

“It’s very important because something could happen. And what you want to know is, where do you want to invest your effort and money in case something does go wrong,” said Martin Robins, founding director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center.

Robins, who consults for NY Waterways, recalled how NJ Transit offered subsidized ferry runs from Hoboken to 39th Street during the so-called summer of hell.

“There was good ridership, very good passenger feedback,” Robins said. “I think it’s something that shouldn’t be lost on us. If there’s turnover at NJ Transit and so on, this is something that needs to be recaptured and tested. It could really lead to even a more aggressive program of using ferries.”

Ultimately, the Gateway Tunnel project would build new rail tunnels under the Hudson. But the Trump administration blocked funding, sparking a political battle.

“The ferry service is great. It’s going to have a lot of people hop on it so they don’t even have to get into the rail service. But at the end of the day, it cannot be a substitute for the Gateway Tunnel,” Menendez said.

It’ll take NJ Transit at least a couple years to buy the new ferry for Carteret. But it’ll take at least that long to get the ferry terminal up and running on the waterfront.