Calls build for ferry service on 'underutilized' Columbia Point

A ferry boat passes through the remnants of the Long Island Bridge in Boston Harbor in 2017. Jesse Costa/WBUR photo

Academic and business leaders in Dorchester’s Columbia Point are looking to increase transportation options by adding a ferry stop in the quickly developing neighborhood that borders Boston Harbor.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston this week say they received a $150,000 state grant to study what improvements would be needed to allow ferry service on the campus pier.

“It’s not a good idea; it’s a great idea,” Steven Rothstein, head of John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which is also located on Columbia Point, said of the ferry proposal.

Rothstein cited the "explosive growth” underway in Columbia Point, with new buildings and dorms at UMass and the redevelopment of the former Boston Globe site across Morrissey Boulevard. He said a recent survey found an "overwhelming number" of people in Boston would be more likely to visit Columbia Point by ferry.

“We want to give more [transportation] options to people,” Rothstein said.

The proposal comes amid moves to develop the 20-acre site of the former Bayside Expo Center, which is owned by UMass Boston. Campus officials have selected a developer in a deal that could result in a $235 million windfall for the university.

“We think that the ferry stop will make a huge difference in making it possible for people to enjoy everything there is to do out here in Columbia Point,” said UMass Boston Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman. “We hope that there’s going to be retail in the area, restaurants and things for people to do when they come and visit, beyond what they can do right now.”

The stop on the UMass campus could add to existing ferry service that connects Downtown Boston and Quincy, advocates said.

Necessary improvements to the John T. Fallon State Pier could cost around $5 million, according to a preliminary estimate by Boston Harbor Now, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the harbor. Researchers plan to consider possible funding sources and assess upgrades that would be needed to add ferry service, including parking, ticketing and bathrooms, as well as protection against the ocean.

Another supporter of the proposal is developer Corcoran Jennison, which has a large presence on Columbia Point, including a hotel, an office building and a housing development in the neighborhood. (Disclosure: The company leases office space to WBUR’s partner, the Dorchester Reporter, on Columbia Point.)

Corcoran Jennison regional manager Richard Fullam said more transportation options on Columbia Point would be a win for everyone involved.

“It would be great [if] our residents and tenants of the buildings and guests of the hotel have an alternative mode of transportation to get here … and also to get from here to downtown, to the South Shore or wherever they may be going,” Fullam said.

Rothstein of the JFK Library said he hopes construction gets underway some time next year, and that ferry service is available in 2021.

“We have a beautiful harbor," he said, "and it’s underutilized."

This story was produced in collaboration with WBUR. The Reporter and WBUR have a partnership in which the organizations share resources to collaborate on stories. WBUR’s Simón Rios is currently working from the Reporter newsroom.