In his recent commentary, former state representative Eric Turkington showed his resignation to the power of the Steamship Authority and the impacts of its operations on Falmouth and the Cape.
Dismissing the possibilities of New Bedford as an alternative port, Mr. Turkington wrote that Vineyard Sound is protected while Buzzards Bay is open ocean. Buzzards Bay is in fact a bay, and 14,000 vessels pass through it each year on their way to or from the Cape Cod Canal. He said that it costs three times as much to run a freight boat, by which he presumably means a ferry, on the 23-mile trip by water from New Bedford to the Vineyard, than it does from Woods Hole. In place of ferries carrying individual trucks with their drivers, we could use barges or tankers, which transport freight more efficiently. Barges and tankers carry more freight than do ferries, so fewer trips would be needed. The total cost of moving goods from New Bedford, not the just the cost of shipping, needs to be considered. Most of the trucks going to the Vineyard pass through New Bedford on Route I-195. The drive from New Bedford to Woods Hole is 43 miles, across an often backed-up Bourne Bridge, with traffic slowdowns in Falmouth, and along the narrow residential Woods Hole Road. This is a 45-minute trip under the best of circumstances. The cost of paying drivers for this trip, to wait for ferries, to accompany their trucks on the ferry trip, and then do the same on the way back is not small. Transport by trucks exposes us to diesel soot and brake pad and tire wear particles, noise pollution, and degradation of our roadways. Waterborne transport of bulk freight is less expensive, with fewer greenhouse gas emissions, than transport by road.
Everything brought to Martha’s Vineyard goes over our two functionally obsolete canal bridges. It is critical to consider peak, not yearly average, traffic volume when assessing Canal region road congestion. Vineyard-bound traffic is greatest at peak travel times, exacerbating congestion. Any reduction in traffic helps reduce congestion.
In dismissing the standing of Cape residents to have greater oversight of the Authority, Mr. Turkington says that the islanders hold majority voting control of the Authority for good reason: because they are almost totally dependent on it for transportation. Islanders depend on the SSA because it has used the power given to it under its enabling act to block other carriers from serving the islands. The solution to island dependence on the Authority is diversification of routes and carriers in place of state-sanctioned monopoly control.
James D. Sullivan