Passenger ferry proposal moves forward in Hillsborough

02/05/14 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: Ed Turanchik, Ferry, passenger ferry, MacDill Air Force Base, Hillsborough County, Hillsborough County Commission, transit, Tampa, St. Petersburg


Ed Turanchik (right) with former Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

photo by Kate Bradshaw/WMNF News (Dec 2009)

Hillsborough County moved ahead today with a high-speed passenger ferry partnership. The County commission approved an interim public-private partnership agreement with HMS Ferries and South Swell Development Group to study a ferry linking the south part of the county, perhaps near Apollo Beach, with MacDill Air Force Base. Former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik is the public face of the project.

"We've already said this, no other transportation option can do so much for so little so fast with so much private sector investment and that is so cool. It's an unequivocal totally defensible statement and at the end of the day I hope you'll agree but you're going to be able to hear this many times, I think. Most urban areas cluster around water, use their water to move their people. We have always wanted to do this but never could get it done. Back when I was chairman of the community rail authority it was go study ferries but like, we didn't know. Commissioner Miller, Senator () pushed that and put that in that enabling legislation back in '90. This county initiated this project in 2008 when it included funding for high speed ferry feasibility study in your federal lobbying campaign. Congressmen Castor and Bilirakis said of all the long list of things they wanted to support this was it and they went and got an earmark. So back in 2009 Congress provided $475,000 earmark to Hillsborough County for this purpose. So you are the progenitors of this, if you will."

"The funds are still there. One of the things in the early conditions is to figure out how to get that money in to take care of the preliminary development work. But that money could not be used for NPO studies and NPO proceeded to study this and they came up and said if there's one route that really made sense that was South County to MacDill. That could be stood up and made to work. It is what, in fact, got the private sector here because they have seen that. Now I'll say something about ridership studies. I've been in transit a long time and you come up with ridership studies and people say "eh, I don't believe it." When the private sector is willing to write a check and say we'll take the risk is when we believe it. Ladies and gentlemen, that's happened here. Let's recognize it and not disregard that very pertinent fact. These commuters, about 5,000 MacDill employees travel 22 to 35 miles each day over the top of the bay, the trip across the bay; 6 miles. High speed ferry service will cut travel time 11 to 15 minutes each way, they'll take some portion of these riders off of a roadway network that consists of US 41, US 301, I75, Crosstown Expressway, Dale Mabry and Bayshore and put them onto a ferry cutting their travel time at the gate and saving families on average $245 per month out of pocket on gas and tolls. MacDill employees have been surveyed twice and have said they have remarkably high interest in this project. 87% in 2008 and 90% this last July said they would use the service. And 86% drive alone."

The vote was 6-1 in favor of advancing the project. Commissioner Les Miller was the lone dissenter.

Hillsborough County could spend up to $125,000 on the Tampa Bay Passenger Ferry feasibility study. Outside of commuting times, Turanchik says the ferry could be used to shuttle people between Tampa's Channel District and downtown St. Petersburg.

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