Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Proposed high-speed Tampa Bay ferry gets $4.8 million federal grant

Ed Turanchik, left, a lawyer for the companies who would run the ferry, speaks at a 2013 news conference with Greg Dronkert, center, and Mark Fernandez, both of HMS Ferries Inc.


Ed Turanchik, left, a lawyer for the companies who would run the ferry, speaks at a 2013 news conference with Greg Dronkert, center, and Mark Fernandez, both of HMS Ferries Inc.

TAMPA — A proposed high-speed ferry that would link MacDill Air Force Base to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg got a boost Monday with the news of a $4.8 million federal grant.

But don't start booking those boat rides just yet. Hillsborough County officials said a lot is still unknown about the public-private ferry, which would launch from Gibsonton in southern Hillsborough and primarily service MacDill employees who live in that area.

The grant, announced Monday in a news release by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, was part of $123.5 million the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded ferry projects across the country.

"Tampa Bay's long-term economic future will significantly benefit if we develop options for people to travel to work and home," Castor said. "Investing in our infrastructure is key to growing jobs in our community and remaining competitive."

One of the many uncertainties giving county officials pause is the ferry's startup price tag. Castor's press release said $17 million. But Ed Turanchik, a lawyer and former county commissioner representing the companies who would run the ferry, told commissioners in February the cost was $24 million.

Hillsborough government would cover most of that, including paying for boats and docks. HMS Ferries Inc., one of the companies behind the proposal, would cover operating costs for the ferry.

The grant "validates the strength of this project," said Turanchik, a longtime advocate of public transit.

"We just went on a national competition," he said. "And even though we have many miles to go, we won."

In February, county commissioners approved spending $125,000 to study the ferry's feasibility. That study is still ongoing, although Turanchik said he feels the argument for the ferry's value has improved since February.

There are 7,800 MacDill employees living in southern Hillsborough who could use the ferry, Turanchik said, up from an initial estimate of 5,300. Boats holding at least 150 passengers could get base employees to MacDill in about 15 minutes from Gibsonton, a commute that normally takes 60 to 90 minutes by car.

While routes linking Tampa and St. Petersburg appeal to a wider ridership, that service would be secondary to the Gibsonton-to-MacDill routes. Turanchik's clients are confident ridership exists to pay for the MacDill service, while the city routes may require corporate sponsorship.

Exact locations of where the boats would land are still under discussion, Turanchik said. Schultz Park in the Gibsonton area is the proposed spot for the main terminal, where the boats would be stored and where parking is needed. That land is owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and Turanchik's clients are discussing a land swap with the public agency.

There is also a potential environmental concern. The water near Gibsonton is heavily populated by manatees, which are protected under federal and state law. Turanchik said manatee safety will not be a problem, as the ferries will run at slower speeds where the mammals are known to congregate.

With so much still uncertain, Hillsborough Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe said Monday he's still cautiously optimistic about the ferry's prospects.

"There are a lot of issues involved, and this is a really complex piece," Sharpe said.

Turanchik hopes to have the ferry running by October 2016, but acknowledges much work remains.

"The stars will have to align," he said.

Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or

Proposed high-speed Tampa Bay ferry gets $4.8 million federal grant 06/02/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 9:27am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa man arrested in fatal motel shooting


    TAMPA — A 37-year-old Tampa man was arrested on a manslaughter charge Thursday for the death of Yasmine L. Tyson on Monday night.

     Christopher Lee Carithers, 37, of Tampa, was arrested on a manslaughter charge Thursday  for the shooting death of Yasmine L. Tyson in a hotel Monday night. [Tampa Police Department]
  2. St. Pete's Downtown Looper expands service with $900,000 grant



    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG ­— The Downtown Looper will expand its route and its hours starting in October 2018 thanks to a $900,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

  3. Latest sewage crisis fallout: Higher utility bills in St. Pete

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — For months the cost of the city's sewage crisis has been measured in terms of environmental damage, legal ramifications and political repercussions.

    Now residents are about to get the bill.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage during the height of the city's sewage crisis. Now the City Council is considering how much to raise utility rates to pay the $326 million bill to fix St. Petersburg's sewage system. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  4. Rays add a bat, too, acquiring Lucas Duda from Mets


    The Rays made another big move today, acquiring 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.

    Duda, 31, is a lefty slugger who will take over as the Rays primary DH against right-handers, with Corey Dickerson now playing most of the time in the outfield.

    To get Duda, the Rays gave up minor-league RHP Drew Smith, …

    The Rays acquired 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.
  5. Florida's legal losses up to $19 million and counting since 2011


    From Gary Fineout of the Associated Press:

    This is getting expensive.