FerriesBy Tamas Mondovics

Support for the now much-talked about high-speed ferry that would connect south Hillsborough County with MacDill Air Force Base continues to gain momentum, especially among MAFB employees, many of whom feel that the project’s proposed 2018 completion date can’t come soon enough.

Voicing a desire to see an alternate form of transportation to and from work and ultimately ending their currently lengthy commute, while cutting the monthly costs, many are urging more public support.

“This project is a low cost, possible alternative to take thousands of cars off the road, reduce congestion and speed up commutes,” said Joe Kilgore president of Southshore Outdoor Adventures LLC of Apollo Beach in a recent Facebook post. “Get out and support this effort.”

Other similar comments such as “All members that I know who live in the Apollo Beach, Riverview area would absolutely use this service,” only gives added testimony to the support the project has gained in recent months including a growing popularity on the County’s, ‘Go Hillsborough’ transportation improvement initiative.

To start with, the proposed project spearheaded by Ed Turanchik, a lawyer with the Akerman law firm, and his client, HMS Global Maritime of New Albany, Ind. would deliver MacDill Air Force Base employees to their jobs and returning them to their south Hillsborough homes at night.

Promising to accommodate multiple vessels, the proposed terminal is an 18-acre portion of the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve, just north of the TECO power plant.

According to Ken Roberts, Vice President and Board member, Tampa Bay Citizens for High Speed Ferries, Inc. a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit corporation, the Schultz Ferry Park would be able to accommodate at least 1,200 fenced, lighted and secure parking spaces and result in the creation of a new waterfront recreational park in South Shore.

To put things in perspective, project supporters estimate that there are over 7,800 families living in the Southshore area around the proposed terminal that have a MAFB employee in their household. The first phase of the plan would take nearly 2,400 service member trips off the roads each day, which is the equivalent of adding about half a lane lane of highway between South County and MacDill.

Commuters reportedly travel between 45 and 70 miles each day, taking as much as 75 minutes each way for travel. The ferry service would only take about 13 minutes to get to MacDill, cutting daily travel time by 30 minutes or more each day, as well as cutting costs.

“While increasing the quality and productivity of the commute, this is the lowest cost way to move people around the bay area,” Roberts said, adding, “And it’s fun.”

Project advocates emphasized that HMS could also deliver off-peak recreational and tourist trips to downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa, with possible terminals in the Vinoy Yacht Basis, in St. Petersburg as well as in Tampa likely located in Channelside on the route of the Tampa-Ybor trolley and within a short walking distance to the Amalie Arena.

While support is undoubtedly available, such endeavors always boil down to cost and funds, which in this case is propelled by public support for the project. The first phase of the project is $25 million to fund the terminal facilities, access roadways, ferries and trams. In contrast, expanding one mile of county roadway costs about $20 million per mile. Advocates say that the project could be funded by $10 million from Hillsborough County spread over 15 years as concession payments, or about $800,000 per year out of its multi-billion dollar annual budget; $10 million in Florida Department of Transportation funds over a five year period to match the county’s funds, and another $5.3 million in federal funds which they said have already been awarded by the government.

According to Roberts, HMS has offered to assume responsibility for operational costs of the MAFB-South County commuter service and would also operate ferries on evenings and weekends as the market demands for such service.

“Our purpose is simple,” Roberts said. “We want our local, state and federal officials to move forward quickly to start passenger ferry service in Tampa Bay. SouthShore area residents are ready.”

For more information on the Tampa Bay High Speed Ferry, contact Ed Turanchik at 813-209-5020 or Ken Roberts at 407-461-3619 or visit www.tampabayhighspeedferry.com.

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