Which sounds more appealing to you: driving 70 miles round-trip on congested highways or cruising over 12 miles of Tampa Bay waters to get to and from work every day? For MacDill Air Force Base employees who live in Apollo Beach, the latter could become reality.
Hillsborough County commissioners approved a feasibility plan to examine operational costs and potential ferry use on Wednesday morning by a six-to-one vote. Commissioner Les Miller voted against the proposal, stating he felt uncomfortable with using taxpayer money to fund the study.
“I’m just not there right now. I just think there’s too many holes gaping that are dark with no bottom,” Miller said. “And I don’t want to see this county and tax-payer dollars being put forth if we’re just not able to reach an accomplished goal.”
Attorney Ed Turanchik made the case for the ferry at this morning's regular meeting on behalf of South Swell Development Group, a Tampa-based development group involved with land and water restoration and construction projects, and HMS Global Maritime, an international vessel management, marine transportation, and consulting company. For $24 million, he said it would provide a much shorter commute at an unbeatable price when compared to other options of expanding transportation.
"No other transportation option can do so much for so little, so fast with so much private sector investment. And that is so cool," Turanchik said.
Turanchik said the 5,300 MacDill families commuting from south Hillsborough County would save $245 per month on gas and toll expenses by eliminating the need to travel via U.S. 41, U.S. 301, I-75, Crosstown Selmon Expressway, Dale Mabry Highway and Bayshore Boulevard. He also claimed 90 percent of MacDill commuters said they would use the ferry, citing a survey conducted last July with 900 responses.
About $20,000 per month will be paid to HMS, which will examine operational costs and potential ferry use. The county's payout is capped at $100,000. Once the study is finished, there are seven other preconditions that need to be met before construction would start, including approval by the Department of Defense and acquiring state and federal grant money.
Should all preconditions be met, the county would have to pay for capital costs, which include the high-speed catamarans and construction of the dock. HMS would assume all operational costs.