Now, three years later, the price tag on the project has more than doubled, to the tune of $53 million, and that does not include the construction of a pedestrian bridge exclusively for ferry commuters, which is estimated to be an additional $5 million. The pedestrian bridge will be built after the ferry terminal is completed.
So what went wrong in the estimates?
State officials are still trying to figure it out.
"The original estimate was just based on the construction of the terminal," said Jack Lettiere, the state commissioner for the Department of Transportation. "It didn't include the other things that have to be done to make this work. The dredging, the walkway, the access. You could build something there for $25 million, but without these other things, it wouldn't have worked."
Even with the increased price tag, Lettiere believes that the new ferry terminal will become a viable commodity to the area, especially since the amount of ferry commuters is expected to increase from the current 11,000 users to 15,000 people a day making the trip to Manhattan, once the Light Rail is completed in Weehawken by next year.
"You're talking about 4,000 cars that aren't going to be going into Manhattan," Lettiere said. "That's going to have a significant impact on traffic at the river crossings."
New Jersey transportation officials have approved a 30-year lease with NY Waterway, giving the company exclusive rights to run ferries from the new terminal, once it is built.
Under that agreement, the company will pay rent to NJ Transit, all based on the total number of commuters using the facility.
For most of the lease, NJ Transit is guaranteed a minimum annual payment of $600,000.
The plans for the terminal basically remain the same as the plans introduced in 2001.
The three-story facility will have four ferry slips and a larger terminal and waiting area. It is expected to be built a little south of the existing one, near the Port Imperial South luxury condominium complex. The first homes in that project were just recently occupied.
"What we have there now is a temporary configuration," NY Waterway spokesman Pat Smith said. "There is not the waiting area or the flow-through that you need to accommodate the volume. It's all about the capacity."
According to Lettiere, the reasons for the increase in the terminal's price tag include:
$11 million for dredging the river near the docks, work that became more expensive when a nearby site for dumping the debris was shut down, forcing the material to be hauled elsewhere.
$2.4 million to pay an engineering firm to oversee construction.
$1.2 million to buy wetlands credits because of the dredging in shallow water.
$1 million in fees for NY Waterway and its engineers to monitor the construction.
$2 million because of the increase in construction costs from three years ago.
$4.5 million for contingencies, or unforeseen items, which may drive up the cost even more.
Lettiere said that the increase in the cost of the project should not be of major concern, considering that substantial funding for the entire project is coming from federal transportation grants, like the one that subsidized the entire Light Rail system.
One of the major changes at the new ferry terminal will include parking. NY Waterway currently has approximately 3,000 spaces, but the lots are about the waterfront and many have to be bused via shuttle vans to get to the ferry terminal.
As part of the second phase of the Port Imperial South development, NY Waterway is building a parking garage at the new terminal. The garage will have 1,500 spaces for commuters. The others?
"They're going to be using the light rail," Smith said. "The model is to go to mass transit. People who drive down to the terminal still get stuck in Lincoln Tunnel traffic. The light rail will be the better alternative."
Lettiere said that he doesn't know yet if additional parking would be needed along the Weehawken waterfront.
"The jury is still out on that," Lettiere said. "But I'm sure that if NY Waterway's customer base is drying up because there's not enough parking, they're going to be the first ones to want to put more parking back in, and we're going to be there to push them."
The Weehawken Hudson-Bergen Light Rail station is expected to be open by later this year. Although construction on the new ferry terminal has not begun yet, it is targeted to be completed by December of 2005.