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  1. Opinion

Column: The MacDill ferry plan is good for Tampa Bay

The Cross-Bay Ferry ran seasonally between downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa’s Florida Aquarium. The new plan would greatly expand where a ferry would sail. [Times photo by Chris Urso]
The Cross-Bay Ferry ran seasonally between downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa’s Florida Aquarium. The new plan would greatly expand where a ferry would sail. [Times photo by Chris Urso]
Published May 3, 2019

We were surprised to read the April 28 editorial "Sink this bad Tampa Bay ferry plan" on the proposed MacDill ferry concept and are compelled to respond and to expand upon the proposal's anticipated benefits to the entire Tampa Bay region. Of greatest concern, the editorial asserts that the MacDill Ferry business plan is a bad proposal because it "serves a small passenger base and does little for commuters at great public cost." This view is shortsighted.

Military families are not the only ones to potentially benefit from this additional transportation mode. Williams Park is situated in one of the fastest-growing parts of Hillsborough County. According to the U.S Census Bureau, Hillsborough is one of top 10 fastest growing counties in the country. A projected 10,000 new homes — with most of that growth anticipated in South Hillsborough — will be built over the next 15 years. Connecting families in this part of Hillsborough County to both St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa, including Tampa Bay Lightning games and the much-anticipated Water Street entertainment district, is an undeniable win for all Tampa commuters and visitors alike.

Of important note, the Times editorial board supported the 2018 transportation referendum, backing based in large part on the benefit of moving thousands of Tampa Bay residents through direct connections to major employment centers including the University of South Florida, West Shore, downtown Tampa and the airport. We agree with the Times that this is a great benefit and argue that MacDill Air Force Base, with its more than 19,000 military and civilian workers and $3.18 billion economic impact to the Tampa Bay region, fits squarely into this category of major employment centers.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has long supported viable transportation options for military families to include a ferry connection to MacDill. The chamber's decision to support the proposed MacDill ferry business plan was not made in a vacuum but rather through a continuing, productive dialogue with leaders at MacDill. They have vocalized their support for the ferry concept and transportation investments have garnered the support of military leadership in Washington. For instance, the secretary of the Air Force is paying particular attention to those local military communities, such as Tampa, that have a proven track record of supporting installation mission readiness and improved quality of life for service members and their families. The proposed MacDill ferry business plan goes hand-in-hand with this military readiness goal by easing commutes, especially between south county and the base, while at the same time serving a substantial non-military passenger base.

The chamber remains committed to all adequate transportation options for all commuters—military and non-military. This business plan is another step in the right direction, and we look forward to working with HMS Ferries, South Swell Development and our county commission towards a solution for all.

The writers are co-chairs for the Military Council at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

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