A view of the proposed new Genesee River Walk pedestrian pathway upriver from the ferry terminal building along Charlotte Harbor in Rochester, N.Y.

Waterfront redevelopment sites create a series of new challenges and opportunities for architects and engineers in the 21st Century. Many of our great cities were founded as ports – safe harbors on seas, lakes and rivers, that grew into centers for commerce, trade and transportation, inextricably tied to the waterways that helped them to grow and prosper. The working waterfront of the past century is in transition in many cities, like Boston, where many industries no longer require a proximity to the water’s edge to enable their business to grow and thrive. Instead, today’s economy requires road, rail and air access, proximity to Interstate highways and airports for overnight delivery with a just in time economy. Where our rivers and harbors were once considered a convenient receptacle for industrial waste, environmental laws and regulations have helped to bring back the urban waterfront as a center for leisure and recreation, cultural and residential use, office and retail development. Privatized, commercial wharves have found new life and uses creating revitalized resources for residents and visitors alike. This article will focus on the revitalization of Charlotte Harbor in Rochester, NY, an ongoing project for a new high-speed ferry connection to Toronto across Lake Ontario. The Port of Rochester redevelopment incorporates a blend of buildings that combine both new building types and traditional mixed use to create a vibrant and revitalized destination for the city and region.

High-speed ferry technology incorporates jet engines to propel a vessel with water jets at speeds up to 50 miles an hour across the water. This technology has evolved during the past decade to provide faster, efficient transportation for short and mid-length journeys in Europe, Australia, Asia and North America. In response to a city of Rochester request for proposal, Canadian American Transportation Systems was selected as the operator for the ferry and the terminal. The CATS ferries, as proposed, will carry about 600 passengers, 150 cars, or a mix of up to ten busses or trucks and about 75 cars. The ride to Toronto will be about two hours in length, saving a half hour or more on the drive around the lake by way of Buffalo or Niagara Falls. The twin-hulled catamaran ships can maintain these cruising speeds in seas up to four feet. Ridership is anticipated from commuters, business travelers and tourists. Since no regular air service connects the two cities, this new technology will provide a much-needed alternative to the lengthy drive around Lake Ontario.

The New Ferry Terminal building incorporates the redevelopment of a 70-year-old brick warehouse building, which was originally designed as a Customs House but never fully utilized as such. Substantial renovations will transform the two-story structure into a state-of-the-art U.S. Boarder Crossing facility. It will combine the elements of a U.S. air port of entry servicing the pedestrian and bus passengers, with the vehicle crossing inspection facilities of a road port of entry similar to those found along the Canadian-United States border. Operating year-round, the facility creates interior spaces that respond to the Rochester winters. The only other similar vessel on the East Coast travels between Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia, but it is seasonal and closes during the winter. This new technology will re-establish the Port of Rochester as a transportation hub for the 21st Century. This type of ferry is now being introduced on West Coast ports with connections between U.S. and Canadian Cities.

The Big Picture
The Port of Rochester ferry redevelopment is part of a broader citywide Waterfront Redevelopment Plan assembled during the past decade. The district plan will help to revitalize Charlotte Harbour, a historic village along the northern shore in Rochester where the Genesee River meets Lake Ontario. Enhancements will include:

• Redevelopment of other historic buildings like the old train station;
• Improved public assess along the water’s edge with the construction of a river walk;
• Relocation of an existing boat launch and construction of a new marina enhancing small boat access to the lake;
• Roadway improvements and streetscape enhancements to upgrade access and the quality of urban infrastructure within the village;
• Redevelopment of adjacent land parcels for mixed-use development;
• Enhancements to the adjacent Ontario Beach Park, an historic recreational landmark; and
• Future opportunity for a multi-modal transportation facility.

The regulatory hurdles for this type of project are numerous for the local government. The city of Rochester is acting as the lead agency, coordinating with county, state and federal government departments for funding and design issues. The ferry building, designed by BTA Architects in Cambridge, incorporates design criteria for the U.S. Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, APHIS, and U.S. Border Patrol as a U.S. Boarder Crossing. The marine engineering for the project, designed by Bourne Consulting Engineers of Franklin, must address criteria for the ferry operator, the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and the Port of Rochester Harbor master. The roadway engineering and team coordination, handled by LaBella Assoc. of Rochester, N.Y., must incorporate, local, state and federal design standards for the road network within the district. Multidisciplinary teams are required on projects of this complexity, but are typical in most waterfront redevelopment projects.

High-speed ferry technology is seen as an area for significant new growth in the 21st century, serving to supplement mass transportation commuter options for cities with waterfront access. The water jet technology makes the speed of water transportation competitive with train, bus and car transportation. This technology is recognized within the federal transportation act, TEA-21, as an appropriate new transportation technology that will help improve and enhance a multi-modal transportation policy for the nation.

Water Transportation Routes Reshaping Municipal Harbors

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min