A preliminary study on the feasibility of a new privately operated freight route between New Bedford and Vineyard Haven concludes that the service could be successful but would come with a hefty price tag: $2 million to $5 million worth of repairs to the New Bedford state pier.

The Steamship Authority commissioned the study this year, in response to ongoing complaints from Falmouth residents about truck traffic on the Woods Hole Road.

The boat line hired Craig Johnson of Flagship Management LLC in Pompano Beach, Fla., to do the study. Mr. Johnson formerly managed Seabulk, also known as Hvide Marine, the company that operated a pilot freight service between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard in 2000 and 2001.

The pilot lost money and was abandoned after two years, but led to the development of high-speed passenger service between the Vineyard and New Bedford.

For the current study, Mr. Johnson began with an inspection of shoreline facilities in New Bedford. He concluded the only suitable facility is the state pier. But using the pier as a freight terminal would require money for infrastructure repairs and political consensus.

Governor is one of the workhorse freight ferries that plies the Vineyard route. — Mark Lovewell

Preliminary estimates put the cost of repairs at $2 to $5 million. “The remaining questions from this discussion are where would the money come from for the repairs and getting support from local leaders as well as the state agencies,” the report said.

Mr. Johnson estimated repairs could be completed, and the terminal could be ready for freight handling, by the spring of next year.

Steamship Authority staff has recommended to its board of governors that the boat line not fund repairs or improvements to New Bedford facilities.

Vineyard governor Marc Hanover said he is firmly against subsidizing repairs.

“Absolutely not,” Mr. Hanover said, speaking to the Gazette by phone. “I certainly would not support subsidizing freight service from New Bedford, or making repairs to anything in New Bedford. The report’s fine. He says he’s got some companies that would be interested in providing the service, but there’s no place in New Bedford for them to operate out of. Unless something serious happens in New Bedford, with them either fixing state pier or finding another location, which is highly unlikely, I don’t think anything is going to happen there. It’s a moot point until there is a facility over there that can handle trucks and freight.”

At a public hearing August 28, Falmouth selectman Doug Jones took an opposite position.

“The Steamship Authority has reported significant profits over the past four or five years,” Mr. Jones said. “We would love to see New Bedford continue to be sought after as a place for freight, even if it has to be subsidized. The Steamship Authority, even after the depreciation, has the funds.”

For the study, Mr. Johnson surveyed a sampling of marine freight haulers on the East Coast and found there was interest in establishing a freight service.

“I feel that,  if a solicitation for the service is issued, it will attract a number of quality operators and vessel owners. They will all have to work out the financial and political factors to operate the service,” Mr. Johnson wrote.

In the final step in the feasibility study, Mr. Johnson plans to arrange for SSA staff to meet with potential marine carriers.

He also contacted the top 25 trucking companies currently hauling freight between the Island and Woods Hole to gauge interest in a New Bedford service.

“I received a largely positive response to a proposed service as another option for their businesses,” Mr. Johnson wrote. “The companies closer to New Bedford and west are more likely to use the service based on my conversations. I spoke with a few companies that were against the service if it reduced the number of trips from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard. Otherwise they saw no problem with the service.”