The Hillsborough County Commission is moving to sink a proposed ferry service between the southern portion of the county and MacDill Air Force Base.
On Wednesday, a commission majority agreed to consider terminating its contract with HMS Ferries and South Swell Development on Aug. 2.
“When the 1% sales tax was voted down (in November 2022) by the taxpayers, this project went down with it,” said Commissioner Gwen Myers. “The county doesn’t have the funding. ... Where are we going to get the funding from? The county doesn’t have it.”
Her comments came after Commissioner Josh Wostal made a motion to kill the contract after he said he was not satisfied with the answers to questions surrounding the future finances of the project.
“I just have too many concerns going forward,” he said.
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 over the past two years.
The ferry service plan, first proposed in 2013, called for Hillsborough County to absorb the upfront capital construction costs, while HMS Ferries covered the projected $175 million operating and maintenance costs for 20 years. South Swell Development would handle permitting and construction.
“This is a big, big bargain,” said Commissioner Pat Kemp, a longtime supporter of the project.
The ferry project’s design and environmental study were scheduled to be completed in 2024 under a $3.7 million contract with consultant Kimley-Horn and South Swell Development. The proposal had called for construction to take 18 months to complete, with service potentially beginning in 2026. But details were supposed to be hammered out in a final agreement between the county, the ferry operator and South Swell next year.
“I don’t think we should pull the plug on this in the middle,” said Commissioner Harry Cohen.
But only Kemp and Cohen dissented on Wostal’s motion.
Before the vote, several people, including members of a recently formed nonprofit named Tampa Bay Ferries Alliance, spoke in favor of the project.
“This is an important and essential transit solution to the congested roadways in Hillsborough County,” said the group’s CEO, Tanya Doran. “The ferry is a key element in connecting our communities.”
However, Commissioner Michael Owen said the county’s money could be better spent elsewhere, including on road repairs.