Driving To Tinian – It Could Be Possible

Driving To Tinian – It Could Be Possible

Can you imagine the convenience of driving your automobile to Tinian? Aside from the traffic generated by residents within the islands, a vehicle ferry would permit tourists on Saipan to rent a car, tour Saipan and head south to Tinian. The vice president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Tony Pellegrino, has an excellent idea for a project to meld Saipan and Tinian into a single market. An automobile ferry operating scheduled runs from Saipan’s southern tip across three and one half miles of the channel to Tinian’s northern coast.

Of course, access roads down the face of the cliffs at both termini would have to blasted out, but this is not an insurmountable task. Interestingly, there are federal funds available to make the project a reality. The U. S. Economic Development Administration has indicated a willingness to consider financing a financial feasibility study. But that’s not all. As a result of the end of the Cold War legislation was passed by the United States Congress (Title XI – National Shipbuilding Initiative, Public Law 103-160 – subtitle D 1993) to assist in retaining the United States ship building capability and the necessary skills for national defense efforts.

The law is administered by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation. This federal program provides for government guarantees to enable ship owners to borrow private sector funds on terms that may not otherwise be available, namely, the program guarantees up to 87.5 percent of a loan at fixed rates with a long term maturity.

The guaranty is available to any financial institution regardless of nationality and one does not have to be a United States citizen in order to own and operate a vessel constructed under the loan program. For example, with an equity participation of $750,000 and the 87.5% federal guarantee a $6 million vessel could be financed. The interest rate is negotiable as well as the period of the $5.25 million loan. The cost of the access road is another matter, the government could undertake such construction with existing equipment.

The above legislation was passed to keep American shipyards open and to relieve unemployment in those domestic areas of the United States where shipbuilding is an important industry. Should it be determined from a feasibility study that a ferry operation can be justified on the Saipan – Tinian route, then the vessel would have to be constructed in an American shipyard in order to qualify for the guaranty and thus contribute to relieving unemployment and under employment in that particular area of the United States. This program, applied to the Commonwealth contributes to the national goal intended by Congress. Title 23, section 129 of the U. S. Code also provides for the use of Federal-aid highway funds in the construction of ferry boats and ferry terminal facilities. Funds the Commonwealth currently obtains for road improvement.

The Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration both provide financial subsidies for automobile ferry service in the United States. The National Technical Assistance Program of the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA) has indicated an interest in considering financing a feasibility study for such an automobile ferry service between the islands. The following action is necessary: a qualified individual should visit each of the islands to examine the situation and prepare a feasibility study to provide estimates of the following: cost of port and dock construction at Saipan and Tinian; cost of the vessel with a detailed estimate of the annual operating costs including maintenance; estimate the number of days the vessel might be out of operation due to bad weather; evaluate the market for the use of the route; determine the one way and round trip cost to the vehicle operator and calculate the amount of a government subsidy required, if needed.

The work should also include the cost of preparation of the access roads, and, of course, the required environmental impact assessment. Since the Tinian portion is within the military retention area that issue has to be addressed. The ocean is our highway and it’s about time we figured a way to use it as such. With a “drive on – drive off” automobile ferry Tinian residents could more readily shop on Saipan and the island could also serve as a dormitory community for many currently residing on Saipan and offer them the opportunity to commute back and forth. One thing the islands have lacked is a sense of community cohesiveness and this water link would contribute to solving that issue. What value can be placed on this social benefit ?