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Ripples Snag Tampa Bay Commuter Ferry Service

Establishing a commuter ferry service linking Tampa, St. Petersburg, MacDill Air Force Base and southern Hillsborough County may take a bit longer to become reality. The first-of-its-kind commuter service on Tampa Bay is running into money and parking woes.

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted Wednesday to extend a contract with the service operator into mid-summer in order to smooth out some of the details.

Those include a lack of parking in Gibsonton at Williams Park, where the Alafia River empties into Tampa Bay at Gibsonton, and a question of where the $36 million needed to buy ferries and build terminals will come from.

Commissioner Ken Hagan was in the minority of commissioners, voting against the extension.

"Most people support the idea of ferry service. There's no question about that. The issue is at what cost?," he said. "Candidly, I think there are some commissioners that are blindly supporting this plan and ignoring the serious issues that exist."

Commissioners voted to negotiate with the Mosaic Company, which has indicated it's not willing to sell land needed for parking at the Gibsonton boat launch site. Another option is running regular bus service to the boat launch.

Commissioner Mariella Smith says they need to get the project done.

"If nitpicking and naysaying and footdragging continues to sink this project, and we lose this opportunity, the odds are we are not going to see another ferry project offered to us," she said, "not in my lifetime."

The ferry company plans to pay the daily operating cost. The estimated $36 million for four 149-passenger catamaran-style ferries and new terminals could come from the recently-passed county transportation tax.

Several commissioners said running a ferry is more suited to HART, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, rather than through county commissioners.

The ferry would run every 15 minutes, connecting downtown St. Petersburg, downtown Tampa, MacDill Air Force Base and southern Hillsborough County.

Route map
Credit Hillsborough County
Map of the proposed routes

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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