The next mode of mass public transportation in Medford may be by boat on the Mystic River.
The city government is using $706,000 in federal grant money to develop a Mystic water taxi as part of a larger plan to increase the city's interaction with the meandering waterway by linking existing and future developments.
The water taxi will also be an alternative form of transportation and could link the city's 55,565 residents to riverfront developments in Somerville, Malden, and Everett, said Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn. There is also the possibility of the boat taking people into Boston.
"There is so much development taking place along the river in all neighboring communities that there is potential to create a whole new economy," McGlynn said. "They know what we want to do and that there is a lot of potential there."
The federal money, which comes from the Ferry Boat Discretionary Program, will be used to plan the taxi route of three or four Mystic sites in Medford and then develop a dock at Medford Square. The grant was originally $825,000, but Congress rescinded a portion of it, leaving $706,000.
"The value of it is what it can bring in the future, not necessarily what it is going to do right now," said Lauren DiLorenzo, director of Medford community development. "Even if there is a downturn in economic activity, now is the right time to get the infrastructure in place. It may not affect every citizen today, but it will go toward helping people in the future."
A large part of Medford's economy once was shipbuilding, particularly clipper ships, and the Mystic River played a large role in their construction. While the same Mystic cuts through today's Medford, the city is not taking full advantage of what the waterway offers, McGlynn said. To increase its use of the waterway, the city has developed more parkland on the riverfront and helped developers with projects like Station Landing, a 16-acre mixed-use facility on the river.
"Lots of people would like to be able to enjoy the river more, but people can't get to it very easily," said Penny Antonoglou, a Cambridge resident who works five days a week in Medford. "Some stretches are really nice, but there is some discontinuation between those areas."
The water taxi will service these locations, as well as a few others underway, and introduce residents and visitors to the many ways of using the Mystic, which could bring about more development.
"It is a major piece to the revitalization of Medford puzzle," said Cheryl White, executive director of the Medford Chamber of Commerce. "It takes advantage of the nicest, most beautiful resource our community has to offer."
Medford's government already has received $5 million in linkage and permit fees from Station Landing and River's Edge, another mixed-use development aimed at revitalizing 200 acres on both sides of the nearby Malden River.
In order to use the ferry boat grant money, which is being administered through the Massachusetts State Transportation Improvement Program, the city must first realign Clipper Ship Drive, which runs along the Mystic River and will be the site of the first water taxi dock. A hearing on the realignment will be held Nov. 5.
The city will have the planning for the water taxi underway by next summer with the construction of the Medford Square dock to follow. And soon after, with the water taxi, the Mystic River could play a whole new role in Medford.
"The river is really nice, and we should take advantage of it," Antonoglou said. "The taxi is a great idea, and more people are going to be aware of the river and the ways they can use it."
Brad Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.