The Southeast Massachusetts Regional Transportation Citizens Task Force, or SMART, is working to move freight traffic to Martha’s Vineyard out of Falmouth.
The task force presented its work last week to the Falmouth Transportation Management Committee.
SMART’s goal is to divert traffic north of the bridges in response to overwhelmed infrastructure on Cape Cod. During the summer months more than 600 trucks travel through Falmouth per day, through the Palmer Avenue and Jones Road intersection and down Woods Hole Road to supply the Vineyard.
SMART argues that freight to the island through off-Cape ports would be more cost-effective, less hazardous, be better for the environment with a smaller carbon footprint and safer for those living along the entire route.
One reason for the reduced environmental impact is the source of the goods, task force member William C. Hallstein said. Most of the fuel delivered to the islands is trucked from Warwick, Rhode Island.
“All those trucks load up in Warwick and drive past New Bedford,” Mr. Hallstein said.
Task force member Nathaniel S. Trumbull described the formation of a development committee to discuss off-Cape ports as a wish list item.
“We found that there is no obvious, regional, institutional mechanism for bringing together select boards, bringing together decision makers, including Bourne and including New Bedford, who could bring these matters forward for full discussion, including funding,” Mr. Trumbull said.
Task force member Phil Logan said one challenge is organizations such as the Cape Cod Commission and Old Colony Planning Council deal with geographically defined areas.
“These are geographically defined, not defined around problems,” Mr. Logan said. “The problem we’re addressing here falls between two of these regional groups, and they don’t get together very frequently, quite frankly. There is not a higher level, short of the Department of Transportation and freight advisory committee, that is even looking at these things.”
He said a 1998 Massachusetts Freight Advisory Council report concluded that the Hyannis and Woods Hole ports were overwhelmed and recommended transporting freight to Martha’s Vineyard through New Bedford.
“We have a series of reports from around 1998 and 1999 that describe the problem, and then everyone went to sleep, like Sleepy Hollow,” Mr. Logan said.
Transportation management committee chairman Edward J. Dewitt said the committee agreed with the need to explore off-Cape ports. The committee had previously sent a letter to the Falmouth Select Board, asking it to encourage the Steamship Authority “to investigate and pursue grants to develop better ways to move freight from the interstate highway system to the islands,” naming the Marine Highway Grant Program and Port Infrastructure Development Grant Program as potential funding sources.
“In conversations I have had with the Maritime Administration in Washington, they were very excited about the intermodal connection you talked about in your presentation, specifically the concept of connecting interstate highways directly to maritime freight routes across the country,” Mr. Dewitt said.
Mr. Logan said New Bedford is taking steps to revive the state pier. However, he said New Bedford is not doing it to transport goods to the islands.
“They are not looking to revive the pier for the purposes we are concerned with,” he said. “They see that as a cultural center or an entertainment center. It will deal with SeaStreak and bring people over with those sort of vehicles, but no barging. Certainly, they don’t see any freight coming through town on the rails and going over the state pier to the islands.”
Mr. Trumbull recommended that the transportation management committee ask the Falmouth Select Board to meet with Bourne, New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard government officials to discuss the future of freight.
“Without that communication, it’s hard to see how the many different parties would ever see eye to eye,” he said.
Mr. Hallstein said having a regional board could help facilitate that communication. Mr. Dewitt asked if the Cape Cod Commission could take up such a role, and Mr. Hallstein said it could, should the commission team up with the Old Colony Planning Council and Dukes County Commission.
“We don’t see them working together now,” he said.
Noting the groups were largely in agreement, Mr. Dewitt said the transportation management committee could focus on developing regional political will to discuss the future of freight traffic to the islands.
“There is a long history here, and a lot of it is known, and the answer has been obvious for several decades now,” he said.
Agreeing with Mr. Trumbull, Mr. Dewitt said the political will has been missing. The transportation management committee can work to develop that political will moving forward, he said.
“I think it is part of our role, in terms of transportation management for the town of Falmouth, is to try to move the political will, keep the public informed and also the various town officials aware of what the impacts are on the town, and that there is a better way of doing this,” he said.