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Pataki christens LIC ferry with eye on September 11

In a feat that would defy the laws of subway physics, Gov. George Pataki breezed his way from Manhattan to Hunter’s Point in five minutes Tuesday afternoon by a route hailed as the city’s next great mode of transportation: waterborne ferry.

The speed came courtesy of New York Waterway, the city’s largest private ferry operator, which at 6 a.m. had inaugurated its high-speed service from Long Island City to Pier 11 on Wall Street and 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan.

“Today we take another step toward the rebuilding and renewal of our great city,” Pataki said. The goal, he added, was “not just to rebuild but to go beyond where we were the morning of Sept. 11.”

The vessels speed from Lower Manhattan to Queens in eight minutes and run the Midtown leg in five.

Only eight days before the first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, the governor’s trip bore a solemn tone as he joined public officials to christen the boat “Enduring Freedom,” named for the country’s anti-terrorism operation. It is joining a flotilla of five other NY Waterway vessels named for people who perished in the World Trade Center.

Noting the clear blue sky and the comfortably warm air, Pataki told the crowd gathered on the gently swaying docks that he awoke Tuesday morning to observe “it’s the type of day we had Sept. 11 of last year.”

NY Waterway President Arthur Imperatore Jr. said the start of the new service struck a dual theme of remembrance and revitalization.

“We are here both to remember what happened and to renew our commitment to overcome it,” he said.

Ferry service has grown into an integral mode of transportation as the city rebuilds from last year’s attacks, a trend that began Sept. 11 when more than 150,000 people were evacuated from Lower Manhattan by boat.

Ridership on private ferries citywide has more than doubled since the assault on the World Trade Center, jumping from 30,000 to as high as 68,000 today, city Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Cocola said. Ferries have proved valuable in shuttling Manhattan commuters across the Hudson and East rivers after the subway and PATH stations beneath the World Trade Center were destroyed.

Although the shadow of Sept. 11 loomed large, the ceremony was not without its levity.

Borough President Helen Marshall, charged with breaking a champagne bottle against the hull to christen the ship as it withdrew from the dock, accidentally let the first one slip from her fingers and plop into the frothy waters below. She strengthened her grip on a second bottle before smashing it against the side of the vessel.

Meanwhile, NY Waterway founder Arthur Imperatore Sr. slipped in late after having battled traffic from Long Island for an hour and a half. The prospect of a ferry ride was a relief in comparison.

City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside), who was on hand for the dedication, said he anticipates the service will not only simplify the commute to Wall Street but should also encourage people to venture out from Manhattan to explore Queens.

“Obviously the shortest route between two points is a straight line,” Gioia said. “What this is doing is it provides that straight line across the East River.”

The service from the Queens terminal at Borden Avenue and Second Street to Lower Manhattan costs $5 each way and takes only eight minutes. The Midtown Manhattan route is $3 and five minutes in length. Both run every 15 minutes during rush hours and every half hour off-peak from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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