Advertisement

Cost for Hillsborough-MacDill ferry route could top $76M, report says

It also estimates ridership could increase 90% over earlier projections.
 
The Cross Bay Ferry, Provincetown III leaves the Vinoy Yacht Basin, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, with passengers headed to downtown Tampa. The ferry is operated by HMS Ferries Inc., the proposed operator of a planned commuter ferry service between South Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base. Public costs of the project are now listed at $76 million to acquire the boats and build docks and a terminal.
The Cross Bay Ferry, Provincetown III leaves the Vinoy Yacht Basin, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, with passengers headed to downtown Tampa. The ferry is operated by HMS Ferries Inc., the proposed operator of a planned commuter ferry service between South Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base. Public costs of the project are now listed at $76 million to acquire the boats and build docks and a terminal. [ Times (2019) ]
Published July 10, 2023

The projected costs to buy boats and build public terminals for the proposed commuter ferry service between South Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base have jumped 45% to more than $76 million.

In a report to be presented to Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday, the number of daily passengers using the service also is projected to increase 90% because a larger vessel will be used and additional trips will be made during off-peak hours.

The status report, requested by Commissioner Josh Wostal, comes amid increased scrutiny of the traffic gridlock in fast-growing southern Hillsborough County. Last month, commissioners authorized two studies of a proposed 10-mile extension of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway that could be constructed in the median above U.S. 301 from Brandon to Riverview. That project, however, could be more than a decade away.

The ferry service, first proposed in 2013, calls for Hillsborough County to absorb the upfront capital construction costs while HMS Ferries covers the projected $175 million operating and maintenance costs for 20 years.

Wostal, in an interview before the report became available, was skeptical of the arrangement.

“They call it a public-private partnership, but it seems right now that 100% of the risk lies with the county,” he said. “That doesn’t feel like a partnership to me.”

Commissioner Pat Kemp, one of the leading advocates for the commuter ferry service, touted it again last month when the commission agreed to study the elevated extension of the Selmon Expressway.

“We need every, every single option, “ she said. “I also have been a big promotor of options, like the ferry.”

The ferry project’s design and environmental study is scheduled to be completed in 2024 under a $3.7 million contract with consultant Kimley-Horn and South Swell Development. If approved, construction is expected to take 18 months to complete with service potentially beginning in 2026.

In this map by Kimley-Horn, the long red-dotted line shows the route of the Cross Bay Ferry that currently provides seasonal transportation between Tampa and St. Petersburg. The proposed expansion, depicted in purple, would transport commuters between southern Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base. The shorter red line shows the route for off-peak hours, when the ferry could travel between the two downtowns with a stop in southern Hillsborough.
In this map by Kimley-Horn, the long red-dotted line shows the route of the Cross Bay Ferry that currently provides seasonal transportation between Tampa and St. Petersburg. The proposed expansion, depicted in purple, would transport commuters between southern Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base. The shorter red line shows the route for off-peak hours, when the ferry could travel between the two downtowns with a stop in southern Hillsborough. [ Hillsborough County ]

Cost considerations, however, remain at the forefront. Earlier projections put the public cost to procure the boats and build the terminals in South County and at MacDill at $35 million to $40 million, but jumped to more than $50 million two years ago. The expanding cost then was attributed to building a larger parking lot, extending water and sewer service to the site, updated vehicle expenses, a calculated 4% inflation rate and other price increases.

The proposed site of the eastern ferry terminal, known as the Mosaic Big Bend site, to be used by proposed Cross Bay Ferry linking southern Hillsborough County to MacDill Air Force Base ,
The proposed site of the eastern ferry terminal, known as the Mosaic Big Bend site, to be used by proposed Cross Bay Ferry linking southern Hillsborough County to MacDill Air Force Base , [ Hillsborough County ]
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Those capital cost estimates are now listed at $76 million due to inflation and other considerations. For instance, the price of the boats increased because of a design change and because plans now call for one of the vessels to be able to carry 350 passengers. Three other boats would have room for up to 149 passengers.

The original schedule called for three vessels to make a total of 13 trips daily. Now projections call for four boats making 18 daily trips. The increased trips and a larger vessel account for ridership increases that are now projected to reach daily roundtrips for 3,687 passengers, up from 1,937.

In a memorandum to commissioners, the county staff raised a number of questions that remain unanswered. They include concerns about overruns, what happens if HMS Ferries can’t uphold its end of the operating contract and what happens to vessel costs if federal grant money is not available.

The staff also asked how the project would be affected by the demise of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority and ongoing financial difficulties at the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority. Both agencies were listed as prospective participants in the 2021 status report and the Hillsborough authority already obtained a $4.9 million federal grant for the 390-passenger ferry.

HMS Ferries also operates the seasonal Cross Bay Ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg downtowns. It served more than 72,000 passengers in the season that concluded in May.