On a map of the Bay Area, Hercules appears the ideal place for a ferry connection to San Francisco.
Traffic-snarled Interstate 80 passes about a mile from San Pablo Bay. The Union Pacific Railroad tracks hug the Bay coast, carrying Amtrak Capitol corridor trains.
The ferry would dock somewhere across the tracks from a planned Hercules passenger train station and bus transfer area along Bayfront Boulevard.
But nautical depth charts reveal a serious inconvenience: Hercules' shoreline is mired in mud and shallows, extending more than a half-mile into the Bay -- a fact that often goes unmentioned during discussions of the proposed transit center. Other times, it gets brushed off as readily solvable by the dredging of a channel or by the deployment of hovercraft, vessels that ride a cushion of air and can navigate in shallow waters and even onto beaches.
Other proposed solutions include conventional vessels with a lesser draft than the ferries currently plying the Bay.
The San Francisco Bay Water Emergency Transportation Authority, the umbrella organization of Bay ferries and operators, better known by its acronym WETA, has pegged the cost of dredging a channel in Hercules at $17 million to $20 million, plus about $3 million every two or three years for maintenance dredging.
On Tuesday, John Sindzinski, WETA's manager of planning, will make a presentation to the Hercules City Council on the future of ferry service in Hercules.
WETA routes connect San Francisco with Alameda, Oakland, Larkspur, Sausalito, Tiburon and Vallejo. The authority is considering future routes between San Francisco and Antioch, Martinez, Berkeley, Hercules, Redwood City, Richmond and Treasure Island, as well as South San Francisco-Oakland. According to a 2003 environmental impact report, among the proposed WETA expansion sites, only a Hercules-Rodeo terminal would require significant dredging.
How the Hercules-Rodeo site morphed into Hercules-only is unclear, but the change of reference occurred in official documents and news reports around late 2002 or early 2003. Civic leaders in unincorporated Rodeo once had vied with Hercules not only for a ferry but also a train station.
An April 2011 Hovercraft Feasibility Study commissioned by WETA found that from a physical and engineering perspective, hovercraft would be a feasible mode of water transit to and from Hercules. But significant logistical and cost questions remain, including the need to have separate or hybrid maintenance facilities for hovercraft and conventional vessels.
Additionally, San Francisco, the ferry network's main nexus, would have to add a hovercraft landing facility such as a landing ramp.
Hercules had spent about $13.5 million of its own money on the intermodal transit center as of January, more than half of it with HDR Engineering Inc. for environmental work, design and engineering. The combination of transportation modes could make the transit center the only one in the western United States to combine bus, rail and water transit, its promoters say.
The city's latest cost estimate to build the ITC, on top of the money already spent, is $76.1 million, with the bulk of it expected to come from regional, state and federal funds.
That amount does not cover a ferry terminal, which the transit center's federal environmental impact statement, published in April, relegates to a future stage. But the ferry is a main selling point in pitches for funding for a Hercules transit center and in the promotion of an adjacent transit village, Hercules Bayfront, to be developed by a private developer.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760.
What: Hercules City Council ferry presentation
Where: Hercules City Council chamber, 111 Civic Drive
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday