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Group works to develop potential routes for ferry linking Tampa Bay area

Start with a stay at a St. Pete Beach resort. Take a ferry across Tampa Bay to the Channel District. Then maybe meander over to Ybor City. Then back across the bay to St. Petersburg for happy hour and a return to the beach.

"That's my ideal trip," said Mike Peterson, a member of the Apollo Beach Chamber of Commerce.

It could become a reality.

Peterson and about 15 others worked Thursday to develop potential routes for a ferry service linking the bay area.

Hillsborough County's Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is federally funded, paid $50,000 to Jacobs Engineering Group for the feasibility study, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

This is not the first time officials have looked into the idea of water travel. The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority master plan from 2009 includes a possible ferry connecting downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg.

The Hillsborough County Commission applied for and received a federal grant in 2008 for a demonstration water taxi service. But the county wants a more detailed plan.

"We have to complete this study before we can put our hands on that money," said Ned Baier, Hillsborough County's manager of transportation planning. "That's been the missing ingredient in these studies in the past. We really hope we will have a better feel for the cost."

Mike Williamson, who is working on the study for Jacobs Engineering, looked at public and privately funded water transportation across the country.

"The majority of them operate at a loss," he said at the meeting. "It does make sense in some locations, and it could make sense here."

The study will examine potential connections between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, including downtown Tampa, Ruskin, Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa's West Shore area, downtown St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor, Oldsmar and Fort De Soto Park.

A trip from downtown Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg over water is about 20 miles. At 20 knots, that could take at least an hour.

"I think it's a fabulous opportunity for tourism," said Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership. "I think the jury is still out for commuting."

Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or jleone@sptimes.com.

Group works to develop potential routes for ferry linking Tampa Bay area 08/19/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 19, 2010 10:57pm]
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