Community Boards

Some Fear West Side Ferry Terminal

May Create Double Terrorist Target

For years, Community Board 4 has been involved in the planning and design of a state-of-the-art commuter ferry terminal on Pier 79, at the end of West 39th Street. Following the attack on the World Trade Center, when ferries were the only way home for thousands of commuters stranded in Manhattan, a new terminal and increased ferry service have seemed that much more important. But another post-9/11 reality has recently raised some concerns about the location of this Hudson River terminal.

The glass pavilion of the six-slip, $30 million terminal will wrap around two ventilation shafts for the Lincoln Tunnel, an entrée to Manhattan that has the dubious honor of consistently topping the city’s short list of potential terrorist targets. And at Board 4’s December meeting, members questioned the wisdom of increasing the incentive for would-be terrorists by piling another public-transportation hub on top of what is already one of Manhattan’s infrastructure lifelines.

“The fact that we’re now providing [terrorists] with a double target … makes it a more valuable target,” board member Frank Eadie said at the meeting. The effects of an attack would be greatly magnified, he explained: “You basically shut down the ferry service, which is what kept the city going after 9/11, and you take out a tunnel shaft.”

The new West Midtown Ferry Terminal is part of a $300 million citywide ferry project that also includes the renovation of the Staten Island Ferry’s Whitehall and St. George terminals, a new floating terminal at the World Financial Center, and a new Port Imperial Intermodal Ferry Terminal on the Hudson River in Weehawken, N.J. Although planning for this project was in place long before 9/11, the key role that ferries played in evacuating downtown on the day of the attacks-and the fact that daily ferry ridership has nearly doubled, from 32,000 to 55,000, with the loss of the World Trade Center PATH line-have given the project added impetus.

Construction on the new West Midtown Ferry Terminal is slated to begin in the middle of 2003. Once completed, half of its slips will be operated by the Imperatore family’s ferry empire, NY Waterway. Since federal dollars are the primary source of funding, the terminal will be subject to strict competition regulations, which means that NY Waterway will be required to open the remaining slips to other operators. In addition, the company will be forced to close down its existing Port Imperial ferry terminal, on Pier 78 at 38th Street, in order to avoid competing with the new, federally funded facility, which will be twice as large.

Designed by William Nicholas Bodouva & Associates, the terminal will have a glass-enclosed main waiting room, curving vestibules on either side of the 145-foot Lincoln Tunnel ventilator shafts, and an elevated walkway for pedestrians over the ferry slips.

“Just about everything about this ferry terminal has met with our approval,” John Doswell, co-chair of Board 4’s waterfront and parks committee, told board members. However, concern about the terminal hugging the Lincoln Tunnel ventilator shafts prompted Mr. Doswell’s committee to draft a letter asking the federal and state agencies involved in planning the project to consider the security issue.

The letter also suggested an alternate location for the new terminal: at West 34th Street, where a temporary terminal might be built in conjunction with an Olympic stadium on the West Side railyards. Since Board 4 thus far hasn’t taken a formal position on the stadium, however, members were hesitant to send a letter favoring a stadium ferry, since it might give the appearance of favoring the stadium by association.

Other Board 4 members thought that the piggybacking of the shafts and the terminal was just par for the course on a crowded island. “The Holland Tunnel shaft is on a public pier,” board member Joe Restuccia told the board. “This is a dense city, with lots of things right next to each other.” Still others thought the worrying should be left to the powers that be, such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “If anybody’s acting paranoid after 9/11, they are,” said board member Ed Kirkland, referring to the P.A., “and they’re not concerned about [this terminal].”

The Port Authority, which operates the Lincoln Tunnel, says it has security in hand. “There has been additional security put in place since 9/11, and we believe that’s adequate,” Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman told The Observer. “But we can’t talk about the specifics.”

After lengthy debate, Board 4 scrapped its letter and sent it back to committee for a rewrite. However, a rewrite has since been abandoned, since the period for public comment on the project has come to a close, and also because the board feels comfortable that the agencies in charge are aware of the potential problem. “Other people have written letters,” Mr. Doswell told The Observer. “I know it’s been brought to their attention.”

Meanwhile, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is spearheading the citywide ferry project, will be putting the additional post-9/11 federal funding available for terminal security to use. “We’re installing security cameras and vehicle barriers and, in addition to that, we’re working with a security adviser to advise us on what else we should be doing at that terminal, Whitehall and the new ferry landing on the East River,” E.D.C. spokeswoman Janel Patterson told The Observer.

-Karina Lahni

Jan. 15: Board 8, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 430 East 67th Street, 7 p.m., 758-4340.

Jan. 16: Board 9, Community Board Office, 565 West 125th Street, 6:30 p.m., 864-6200.

Jan. 21: Board 1, St. John’s University, 101 Murray Street, 6 p.m., 442-5050; Board 11, La Guardia House, 307 East 116th Street, 6:30 p.m., 831-8929.