Ed Turanchik wasn't able to appear before the HART board as scheduled on Monday to discuss the latest on the proposal to create a high-speed ferry system that would ultimately transport citizens from Tampa to St. Petersburg (HART CEO Katharine Eagan said there were issues with the Fish & Wildlife Dept. that forced him to delay his appearance. We've contacted him to learn more), but the proposal made news anyway today with the announcement that the federal government is providing a $4.8 million in funding to help launch the proposal, with the first leg intended to run from the Southern Hillsborough town of GIbsonton to MacDill Air Force Base.
The $4.8 million Department of Transportation grant is a little more than half of the original request for $9.1 million. According to the application, the funds will pay for the construction of the terminals, related parking facilities and roadway improvements.
"Hillsborough County and HART feasibility studies show strong ridership potential for a high-speed ferry service, and this grant will assist in propelling the project forward,” said Tampa-based Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who brought home the proverbial bacon in this case. “A high-speed ferry option would be especially appealing to employees traveling daily to MacDill AFB, where thousands of vehicles clog up gates at the base every morning.”
Five years ago, Castor was able to procure a $475,000 federal transportation infrastructure grant for the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to conduct an in-depth study of the demand for ferry service in the region. Of the nine routes studied, a Tampa/St. Pete service had the broadest appeal, but the only one that made financial sense was MacDill/South County. But with a $20 million price tag attached to it, the county had no plans to act on the proposal, and that money was going to have to return back to Washington. That's before (as CL reported back in March) Turanchik learned about the proposal at the law firm of Ackerman Senterfitt, where he began working after losing out in the 2011 Tampa mayoral election.
The proposal states that the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners "is committed to this project and has the
necessary match." But there's still a considerable way to go before the public-private partnership will have the estimated $20 million required to begin.