A passenger ferry between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base ranks fairly low on any list of pressing transportation priorities. But the project might produce a number of benefits to justify a modest public investment. Hillsborough County commissioners should at least agree this week to explore the idea.
The proposal calls for running a ferry between Schultz Park in southern Hillsborough and the South Tampa base. With about 5,000 MacDill employees living in the area, supporters say the ferry would be a cost-saving and convenient option that would reduce traffic coming in and out of Tampa.
It's too early to know whether a ferry makes enough sense to warrant a public subsidy. But a contract before the commission Wednesday would set the stage for a feasibility study. This idea has many moving parts, from the economics of operating a ferry to the environmental impact and logistics of building terminals and parking and integrating the service with land-based transit.
Supporters say the ferry's south terminal could become a large and functional public park, and that service would ultimately be open to the general public between the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. The park is a secondary issue; what matters is how much the project costs and how it fits into the region's transportation system. The county also needs to answer why local dollars should go to a private company to subsidize the commutes of federal employees. This feasibility study would help the county make an informed decision without tying its hands at this early stage.