A Ferry for the Merrimack

Tuesday April 30, 2024

REGIONAL – For many who lived here before us, the Merrimack River was a primary means of transportation. The river was a critical for fishing, hauling supplies and travel from town to town.
Noah Berger, the administrator for the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, does not imagine the river will ever again supplant streets and highways as MEVA’s top source of transporting riders.
But a ferry could become a part of the regional transit system that serves the Merrimack Valley, a fun and exciting addition for visitors and residents.
As soon as the summer of 2025, Meva may test two solar-powered ferries that will carry up to 15 riders per trip between Haverhill and Newburyport with a stop in Amesbury. The ferries will also use ferries to ply the river between Amesbury and Newburyport.
The ferries, Berger said, will be low profile, 28-foot-long ferries.
“Don’t think Staten Island ferries,” he said. Or the Hy-Line ferries from Hyannis to the islands.
The trip from Haverhill’s city dock to Newburyport’s waterfront will take an hour or a little more, he said. The trip across the river from Amesbury to Newburyport will take 15 to 20 minutes.
MEVA was awarded $4.2 million from the federal government to develop the ferry service.
The plan is to use the existing downtown municipal docks in Haverhill, behind 100 Washington St. and Newburyport, behind 54 Merrimack St., which served the Yankee Clipper boat tours. In Amesbury, the ferry will use a renovated municipal dock, which is being upgraded a part of a state grant of $840,000 to improve the dock and other waterfront facilities.
Berger expects to issue a request for proposal soon to build the ferries.
“Our vision is to integrate all transportation services, buses, vans and eventually trains with the ferry,” Berger said. “If everything goes right, it could have a test run in the summer of ’24.”
The ferries will be distinctive as they ply the river. Berger plans to have them painted the same Caribbean color scheme as MEVA’s buses and vans.
MEVA, which operates its buses and vans fare free, has not yet determined if travel on the ferries will also be free. “I would like for the service to be fare free, given how successful the fare-free program has been with our bus service,” Berger wrote in an email.
The regional transit authority will also work with all three communities to determine the need for upgrades to the docks and to design anything needed, including low-profile, charging infrastructure, he wrote.
Thanks to the state grant, the Washington Landing boat ramp, which serves as the city’s only public access to the river, will be replaced. The state funds will also add about 900 square feet of boardwalk to support the harbormaster office and access the boat ramp. There will also be a new gangway and a 100-foot finger dock for the boat ramp facility and transient vessels.
The parking area will be improved and the living shoreline will be restored next to the boat ramp.
Amesbury Police Chief Craig Bailey and Nick Cracknell, director of the city’s community and economic development, wrote the application for the funds to improve recreational access to the river and support potential economic development along the waterfront.
Two marinas that utilize the boat ramp, John Jay McPartland, owner of the Marina at Hatter’s Point, and Dan Healey, owner of the Marina at Amesbury Point, committed funds for the design, permitting, and future maintenance of the dock.
Mayor Kassandra Gove called the state grant “a huge win for Amesbury.”
The improvements to the Washington Landing boat ramp and the proposed development of the adjacent marina, Gove said, will transform the area and will provide safe access to the Merrimack and foster economic growth.

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