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The Breeze may sail again

Rochester mayor wants his city to buy ill-fated fast ferry

Toronto will be ready with terminal, port authority says


If the mayor of Rochester has his way, there will once again be a fast ferry plying the waters between his city and Toronto.

William Johnson announced yesterday that he wants to buy and operate The Breeze, which sailed across Lake Ontario for 80 days before going under in September.

His plan is to create an autonomous city agency and sell $40 million (U.S.) in government-backed bonds to buy the ferry.

If his plan works, twice-a-day service across the lake could start again in April, Johnson said in a phone interview.

The plan needs the approval of Rochester council and New York State, and Johnson feels confident it will get the necessary support. But he admits winning back the confidence of Rochester residents �X who waited through endless delays for the service to start, only to see it end less than three months later �X may be harder.

The city, state and federal governments have already sunk $50 million (U.S.) of taxpayer funds into getting the ferry up and running, building a terminal and designing an entire waterfront revitalization plan around the boat.

“We’re saying this is a way to protect the more than $50 million that has already gone in … and helps to facilitate the ongoing development of the port area,” Johnson said.

“There has been too much invested on both sides of the lake for us to watch this go up into thin air.”

On this side of the border, if the ferry starts again things will actually be ready this time, said Ken Lundy, chief of operations at the Toronto Port Authority, the Canadian partner in the failed venture.

Construction of the $10.5 million ferry terminal will be finished by late January or early February, Lundy said.

The port authority has been aware of Johnson’s plan to restart the ferry for some weeks and is “definitely encouraged by it,” he said.

“We feel it was a very positive service and it had good response,” Lundy said of the ferry. “It was just unfortunate the operator ceased it so quickly and inappropriately.”

The ferry’s owner, Canadian American Transportation Systems, closed down the service without warning, citing several problems, including Ottawa’s refusal to cover customs costs and a lack of a permanent terminal in Toronto.

The $59 million (Canadian) fast ferry can carry 774 passengers and 238 vehicles.

It usually takes three to four hours, and longer if there are delays at the border near Niagara Falls, to make the 275-kilometre trip by road. The trip by boat took two hours, 15 minutes.

But what will the port authority do with its terminal if The Breeze doesn’t come back?

“We’re very confident it will be back,” Lundy said.