STATEN ISLAND — The city's aging fleet of Staten Island ferries is to be replaced after up to 50 years of sailing New York's harbor.
The Department of Transportation is looking for bidders to design a new generation of vessels for the route, according to a request for proposals issued this week.
“With the exception of the Molinari Class ferries, all of these vessels are either at or are approaching the end of their useful operating lives and must be replaced,” the DOT wrote in its request.
It calls for "total design and construction support services" to replace three of its "Barberi" and "Kennedy"-class ships.
There's currently a fleet of six large ferries and two smaller ones, carrying more than 20 million people between Staten Island and lower Manhattan every year.
The two biggest boats to be retired would be the “Barberi Class” ferries — the Andrew J. Barberi and the Samuel I. Newhouse — which hit the seas back in 1991 and 1992.
The third and oldest ferry, the John F. Kennedy, dates all the way back to 1965, meaning it is nearly 50 years old.
The team picked by the city would be tasked with coming up with a new design for the ferries or modeling them off of the newest “Molinari Class” boats — the Guy V. Molinari, the John J. Marchi and the Spirit of America, which carry 4,500 passengers and were placed in service between 2005 and 2006.
All of the ships are expected to travel least 18 miles per hour so they can make the round trip between the St. George Terminal in Staten Island and the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan in an hour, and would be the same size as existing ships so they can fit into the docking slips.
Still, bidders will have a lot of leeway, DOT spokesman Scott Gastel said.
“All options remain on the table and we could pursue a different design that will provide reliable service into the coming decades,” he said, adding that the request “is just the latest in a series of steps that could result in the building of a new class of ferries and retiring the oldest vessels in the fleet.”
In addition to replacing the aging boats, the city is looking to retrofit the younger "Molinari" boats with a new propulsion system so that the whole fleet can use the same maintenance services and spare parts.
“Such consistency will be vital to the effective operation, maintenance and repair of the different classes of ferries,” the RFP said.
Gastel said it's too soon to say when the new boats might hit the seas or how much they will cost. If history is any indication, the price tag will be massive. The Molinari boats, built by the Manitowoc Marine Group, had a price of a whopping $40 million each.
But the city seems to have little choice.
“The construction of new ferries and modification of the Molinari Class Ferries are necessary in order to maintain safe, reliable and economical Staten Island Ferry service for the future,” the RFP said.
The city has not yet begun discussing what might happen to the retired ferries, which have been put to various uses in the past.
The Pvt. Joseph Merrill and Cornelius G. Kolff, for instance, were converted to prison dormitories for Riker's Island, according to the website siferry.com.
The City has operated the Staten Island Ferry since 1905. On a typical weekday, the boats make an average of 109 trips, DOT's website says.
Proposals are due to the city by August 17.