Tampa Bay Ferry Discussion is Back!

I was originally going to post this topic back on May 12, but due to unforeseen circumstances, this topic was pushed back to this week.

As many of you in the Tampa Bay area may have heard in recent weeks, talk of bringing some form of ferry service to the Tampa Bay area is back in the spotlight. But the question at hand is…how long will this latest plan be on the table before it fizzles out?

This latest effort to bring ferry service between MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa and the western shores of Apolo Beach isn’t the first time that such a plan has been brought to the table. Many previous plans for ferry service have gone through the beltway before, but only to be washed away a few weeks later. I’m going to take a wild guess at this point that the current discussion will end up having the same fate as hurricane season is set to begin in less than two weeks.

What is all the hoopla about anyways?

This latest chapter in attempting to bring ferry service to the Tampa Bay area is being spearheaded by Ed Turanchik, who has been in the public spotlight several times. Most recently, he tried to run for Tampa Mayor and was championing high speed rail, among other ambitious transit expansion plans. Turanchik later lost that mayoral bid to Bob Buckhorn and Governor Rick Scott took the ax to Florida’s high speed rail plans. The current discussion regarding ferry service would comprise of “high speed” ferry boats that would whisk military personnel and other workers between MacDill Air Force Base and Apollo Beach, with possible links in the future to the Channelside district and Pinellas County.

Why ferries make sense in Tampa

Having ferry service makes sense in so many ways. For instance, there is currently a ferry service that runs between Portsmouth and Norfolk, VA, in the New York City area, ferries run between Manhattan and Staten Island, and ferries are abundant throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. For the Tampa Bay Area, having a ferry route between Apollo Beach and MacDill AFB would allow military personnel to easily travel to and from the base without being stuck in traffic. Currently, there is a lot of construction along the Selmon Expressway, which serves as the mainline route from Brandon into South Tampa. This is due to the ongoing downtown viaduct widening and the I-4/Selmon Connector project, both of which have narrowed traffic flow to just one lane in each direction through the construction zone, which in-turn, has caused commute times to increase. Having a ferry route would allow commuters to bypass all of that construction and enjoy decreased commute times.

Why such plans may not exactly work for Tampa

From what I’ve heard so far through forums, many people are arguing that the ferry service simply will not work if there are no vehicle ferry boats available, especially if a route is established between Pinellas and Hillsborough. Many are concerned that people will just choose to drive instead of using the ferry, thus creating very low ridership levels. Another concern is funding; HMS Global Maritime of New Albany, Ind insists that they will cover such costs, but want government funding sources to be able to help start up the service (as far as building the docks, dredging, etc is concerned). Will the government accept such a proposition? Or will they kick things to the curb and say private investment is the only option? This issue alone is likely to get Tea Party activists all rallied up against any ferry plan. Furthermore, if the ferry system fails, will taxpayers end up being on the hook? That was a huge concern for Governor Rick Scott when he decided to ax high speed rail.

Will it launch successfully? Or just become another “boondoggle”?

That really is the question at stake; if…and I stress…if…the ferry service is even able to move off paper. Like many ferry plans of the past, this one may very well remain just chatter and never take off. Personally, I really don’t think that any ferry service is going to be able to move off the planning books without some detailed studies to see if ferry service is even viable in the Tampa Bay Area. And even such studies I believe are a long shot at this point, with government funding still constrained due to the economic downturn. However, it is nice to see every now and then what kinds of ideas for transit come up…whether they do become reality or not.

Please let me know what you think!

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