Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay high-speed ferry proposal evolving

TAMPA — Two months after the launch of a proposal to create a high-speed ferry service crossing Tampa Bay, terms of the deal may be changing.

Under the initial proposal, backers were asking Hillsborough County taxpayers to front as much as $24 million to pay for docks, parking and even the boats. But the county is pressing New Albany, Ind.-based HMS Ferries Inc. to pay for those capital costs in exchange for a possible operating subsidy to cover some portion of what the company does not recoup in fares.

County officials say the initial proposal puts too much of the risk on taxpayers at a time when government coffers still face stark shortfalls in tax revenues to pay for things such as roads, drainage and other needs.

"The good part of this approach is, if it doesn't work we're not stuck with a bunch of boats that we don't know what to do with," said County Administrator Mike Merrill. The gives the county the ability to pull the plug if needed, he said.

Former county Commissioner Ed Turanchik, a longtime advocate of public mass transit, first pitched the high-speed ferry idea publicly in May. He's now a lawyer with the Akerman Senterfitt firm, which engaged HMS Ferries to consider opening shop on Tampa Bay.

The service here would be built around rush-hour commuter shuttles between MacDill Air Force Base and southern Hillsborough County, where some 5,300 military families live. Catamaran vessels with an initial capacity of 250 to 300 people could be used at other hours to ferry passengers between Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg, or for special events.

A recent survey of MacDill employees showed strong support for the concept, said Ramond Chiaramonte, executive director of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, which commissioned the survey. He was not immediately able to provide a copy of the results.

"I think that it's exciting that an international company thinks that this is a workable thing to do," Chiaramonte said. "It's time we got out of thinking about transportation as only roads. I think this is a good, not terribly expensive way to do that."

Turanchik and representatives of HMS got a warm reception from elected officials and civic leaders when they unveiled their concept. But county commissioners, who are being asked to contribute the bulk of the tax dollars, at least initially, have expressed skepticism at the potential asking price.

Some continue to express interest in the idea, but are not sure it is workable in the near term. Voters in Hillsborough County have not been enthusiastic to back taxpayer supported transit, as evidenced by the 2010 ballot box defeat of a proposal to raise sales taxes primarily for more public buses and local commuter rail.

"There's a will here to try to make it work, but it's got to be advantageous to the public," said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who has been among the most actively engaged elected officials in talks. "I'm not sure there's a will to put $8 million into it."

That's one figure that has been floated as the initial county investment under the original pitch, though Turanchik said most numbers associated with the deal are fluid.

Merrill said the project may work best as a pilot initially to see if the interest expressed in surveys translates to riders. Ultimately, he said, the analysis of the project's merits will be based on high bars that ensure any public investment is protected.

He, for one, wants to see whether ferry service would attract enough riders to make a true dent in traffic in southern Hillsborough – enough so that it might mitigate the need for road widenings.

Turanchik said he takes heart in the fact that the county has been willing to at least negotiate.

"I think there's pretty much broad-based support for the project," Turanchik said. "But it's got to be done in the context of the county's budgetary realities. I think people are trying to figure that out."

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay high-speed ferry proposal evolving 07/27/13 [Last modified: Saturday, July 27, 2013 10:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win

    Colleges

    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  2. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  3. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin

    World

    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]
  4. Rays pitchers rave about Twins pitching coach, ex-mentor Neil Allen

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a lot of coaches who have had a hand in helping Chris Archer get to the big leagues and to the front of the Rays rotation, and as he took the mound Friday night at Target Field, he had reason to nod appreciatively toward the home dugout.

    In their third year with pitching coach Neil Allen, the Twins have been one of the surprises of the American League.
  5. Swan sculpture deputies say was stolen by naked man found near Lakeland pond

    Crime

    A $25,000 swan sculpture that Polk County sheriff's deputies say was stolen by a naked man last weekend was found near a pond in Lakeland on Thursday.

    A swan sculpture that was stolen in Lakeland on May 19 was recovered by the Polk Sheriff’s Office on Friday.