The Legislature has included $1 million for ferry service connecting downtown Clearwater and Dunedin to Clearwater Beach, meaning it is now up to Gov. Ron DeSantis whether to leave the funding intact.
Lawmakers signed off on the $117 billion budget Tuesday. It includes a funding request from Sen. Nick DiCeglie, whose district includes Clearwater Beach, seeking $1 million to replace outdated vessels, help fund dock renovations and provide an annual subsidy to the existing ferry provider.
Clearwater, in partnership with the city of Dunedin, has been operating a pilot program since 2015, using water ferries to transport residents and visitors from mainland Clearwater and Dunedin to Clearwater Beach.
DiCeglie’s appropriations request notes the pilot program “serves as ‘proof of concept’ for permanent water transportation as a permanent solution” to alleviating parking and traffic congestion.
The service, DiCeglie notes, “will also continue to work with the transportation partners at PSTA and Forward Pinellas to ensure efforts align with regional transportation solutions.”
Of the total funding under the request, $800,000 would go to vessel replacement and dock renovations, while $200,000 would fund the ferry subsidy to promote permanent service.
The services provides “frequent and reliable water transportation in Dunedin and Clearwater for the citizens of the community,” the request notes, adding the funding “allows for increased departures and days of operations, providing an additional mode of transportation options for the community.”
The request anticipates with the expanded service funding would facilitate, the ferry service would be “able to serve between 75,000 and 100,000 riders annually.”
“Expected benefits include alleviating parking and traffic congestion, aiding economic activity in the waterfront merchant community by bringing tourists from Clearwater Beach directly to Downtown Clearwater and Dunedin, increasing tourism throughout the Pinellas County communities, adding employment opportunities with the Clearwater Ferry, and helping to solve staffing challenges for local businesses by providing an alternative option of travel into work,” the request reads, adding that benefits would be “measured by a survey of ridership following each trip.”
The private ferry service received a public subsidy from the City of Clearwater until 2019, but that money has since dried up and service was limited to weekends.
The funding would pay for two new 49-passenger pontoon boats, adding to the existing fleet of three boats that carry 21, 42 and 63 passengers respectively, according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal.