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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Saipan-Tinian ferry feasibility study contractor this week

Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority special assistant Thomas J. Camacho shows reporters the proposed routes for a planned public bus system expected to kick off this year, after making a presentation at a closed-door Cabinet meeting yesterday. (Haidee V. Eugenio) Even as the “fixed” and flexible” bus system is expected to take off before the end of the year, the winning off-island bidder for the long-awaited study to determine the feasibility of a Saipan-Tinian ferry system will be known this week, Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority special assistant Thomas J. Camacho said yesterday.

Funding for this Saipan-Tinian ferry service feasibility study is $175,000 from the Federal Highway Administration, with the CNMI Department of Public Works as the administering agency in partnership with COTA.

Camacho updated Cabinet members about the public bus transportation system, including the proposed routes on Saipan, and other transportation-related developments during a closed-door meeting yesterday morning.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos separately said yesterday that as soon as the bus system proves feasible, the program would be expanded and the routes would be increased.

After the over three-hour Cabinet meeting, Camacho also told reporters about the selection later this week of the winning bidder for the Saipan-Tinian ferry feasibility study.

He said the two entities that responded to the request for proposals are from the U.S. mainland.

“We completed the final phase of the evaluation process so this week, we’re looking at selecting one of the two bidders for the Saipan-Tinian-Saipan ferry system feasibility study,” Camacho said.

Once picked, the contractor, he said, will have about half-year to conduct and present the study that will determine the viability or feasibility of a Saipan-Tinian ferry service.

This means before the end of 2014, the government would already know whether to pursue or not a ferry service between Saipan and Tinian, years after a privately-owned and operated ferry service shut down.

Camacho said a Guam-Rota ferry service feasibility study will be a separate one, because they are two separate jurisdictions.

If the study reveals the viability of a Saipan-Tinian ferry service, then COTA will take the recommendations and start working on the terminal and related facilities, ferry boat design and operations, which he said would become a government and private partnership. A private firm, for example, could take over the actual operations of the ferry.

Besides federal funding, the government may also implement certain taxes to help subsidize the ferry service.

“We’re hoping that the study would recommend an auto-passenger ferry so we can bring vehicles back and forth. It’s an option for people,” he added.

He said the government cannot pursue a ferry service without a feasibility study.

“A super ferry in Hawaii it flopped because there was no study really done, no impact study,” he added.

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