The Hillsborough County Commission voted Wednesday to approve a study to examine the possibility of expanding the Cross Bay Ferry Service.
The commission voted 6-1 to allot up to $100,000 for consulting firm Kimley-Horn to develop the report.
District 2 Commissioner Ken Hagan explained why he cast the lone dissenting vote.
“I feel this project is a house of cards and we’re throwing good money after bad,” Hagan said during Wednesday’s County Commission meeting. “However, I am hopeful that the study reflects the financial albatross and minimal ridership that exists with this project.”
The study is expected to provide commissioners more information on the possibility of expanding service to include south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base.
The Cross Bay Ferry began in November 2018 as a public-private partnership. In the past, there has been an equal split of the cost between the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg along with Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
With Hillsborough County taking over negotiations on a new ferry agreement from the city of St. Petersburg, there are plans to ask whether the Florida Department of Transportation would like to contribute financially to the program.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, whose term expires in January 2022, said he supported Hillsborough County taking over the ferry negotiations.
“I personally want to say, ‘thank you’ because I think what we’ve seen with the Cross Bay Ferry has been really a prime example of what happens when the private sector (and) public sector partner and when you have collaboration among different government entities,” Kriseman said.
Kriseman said the data showed the Cross Bay Ferry was on pace to break ridership numbers before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020. The ferry resumed service on Nov. 1, 2020, with a variety of safety protocols in place.
Typically, the ferry is a seasonal operation that runs from Nov. 1 to April 30. It carries a maximum of 149 people, and ferries passengers between downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The landing site in St. Petersburg is in the North Yacht basin between to the St. Petersburg Museum of History to the south and the Vinoy to the north. In Tampa, the landing site is behind the Tampa Convention Center.
On Monday, the Hillsborough County Commission also voted 6-1 in favor of allowing county staff to develop an agreement with HMS Ferries Inc and South Swell Development Group to continue the seasonal ferry service. The agreement is subject to Commission approval. On this measure, District 4 Commissioner Stacy White cast the only dissenting vote because he thinks the cities should pay for more of the cost.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of the ferry service itself,” White said. “I voted against this from the very beginning because I believe strongly that it’s the residents of the city of Tampa and city of St. Petersburg that benefit from this the most.
“And, I personally believe as a matter of philosophy that the two cities should have more skin in the game than two counties.”
While Hagan didn’t support paying for the Kimley-Horn study, he expressed his support for the ferry itself. He said the emails he read supported extending the ferry service between Tampa and St. Petersburg, but not for south county or MacDill Air Force Base service.
“I just want to say that the Cross Bay Ferry is an excellent regional asset and partnership, and I fully support continuing this service,” Hagan said.
District 5 Commissioner Mariella Smith said the county had received 420 emails in support of expanding ferry service.
“We heard a lot from citizens in south county about how they are suffering from the traffic that this county keeps adding to their roads with every new development approved, and thus understand this very project would take thousands of cars off the road during rush hour,” Smith said.
White explained why he voted in favor of the study.
“I think it’s a wise decision to spend $100,000 for the analysis and due diligence to get more data in front of this board,” White said.
Hillsborough County Assistant Administrator Tom Fass said the county commission is expected to receive the report in mid-August.
“It should dovetail, I believe, nicely with your budgetary decision-making process,” Fass said.
The report is expected to address the following:
— Project budget and the cost of operational needs
— The roles of each organization, agency and entity associated with the project
— Eligible funding sources and amounts anticipated
— Project risks
— Timeliness and the costs to complete design and engineering for the project