The Steamship Authority carries as many as 650 semi-trailers and other trucks a day in summer to and from Martha’s Vineyard. All those trucks pass through Falmouth and Woods Hole. Studies show that 85 percent of that freight passes by New Bedford on 195 before it is then hauled north to Wareham, on to congested Route 25, across the Bourne Bridge, and down Route 28 to the hospital lights in Falmouth and to Woods Hole, increasing overall congestion, wear and tear on the Bourne Bridge, our highways and roads, and on freight shippers’ equipment. Interest in rerouting any of that freight to an off-Cape port has been running high among Bourne and Falmouth residents.
Falmouth Selectman Douglas Jones at Monday’s board of selectmen meeting asked about progress on opening a supplemental freight route from New Bedford to the Vineyard. Selectman Jones asked specifically about the status of an anticipated Request for Proposals to independent carriers for providing New Bedford freight service about which Steamship Authority senior staff had spoken at a board of selectmen meeting 18 months earlier.
Authority general manager Bob Davis replied that “It is on our website.”
We have looked and can find no sign of an RFP, or any document resembling an RFP, on the Steamship Authority’s website. In response to an inquiry in July 2019, the SSA communications director wrote that “We have not issued an RFP for freight service from New Bedford.” How can there be an RFP on the SSA website if the RFP has not yet been issued?
While the Steamship Authority spends on its Woods Hole terminal reconstruction ($65 million has been allocated for the Woods Hole reconstruction, in addition to the $16 million the SSA already spent on its new administrative building in Falmouth), the SSA appears opposed to investing in any way in off-Cape freight service and to developing freight capacity between, for example, New Bedford and the islands.
Steamship Authority management has a long history of stacking the deck against any competition to its monopoly on carrying freight to the Vineyard. What better way to protect one’s business than simply never allowing competitors to emerge?
In the absence of any apparent plan by the Steamship Authority to add an off-Cape port for freight to the islands, Falmouth residents’ quality of life will continue to be collateral damage for the Steamship Authority’s expanding freight operations in Falmouth and Woods Hole.
Nathaniel S. Trumbull