Testing the ferry commute to MacDill

My days are normally spent monitoring congested highways, potholes and malfunctioning lights, but today, I'm kicking back and letting Florida Fish & Wildlife's Baryl Martin do the driving.

Our highway is Tampa Bay. We're traveling the route the proposed Tampa Bay High Speed Ferry will take if it is approved to see how much it will cut down travel time for MacDill Air Force Base employees living in and around Gibsonton and Apollo Beach.

Here's the hypothesis: I predicted the boat ride from U.S. 41 in Gibsonton over the Alafia River, would take at least 10 minutes less than the drive from northern Apollo Beach to the entrance of MacDill. Here's how we tested this: I'm rode along with Baryl in a boat, and 10 News Photojournalist Angela Clooney made the drive along U.S. 41 to the Selmon Expressway.

Here's the scoop on this project. A group of businesses got together to propose the ferry service which would utilize both private and public funding to get started, but then be operated either privately or using a combination of private and public funds. One of the biggest investors is HMS Global Maritime, a company that has pledged significant resources to make this service happen. They are a leader in the ferry service industry.

At 3 minutes, Angela was at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Big Bend Road, waiting at a light.

By boat, we were about a third of the way to U.S. 41.

So, how much would this thing cost? Here's the breakdown: About $7 million for the first boats and a tram service to get riders around MacDill A once they are there. Waterway, docks, parking and terminal would add up to $9 million to $11 million and additional vessels down the line would cost anywhere from $4 million to $8 million.

At 6 minutes, we were about two-thirds of the way there on the boat. Angela was still on U.S. 41, pulling up to Symmes Road.

The most likely docking location for the ferry is a green space area south of the Alafia River, near Whiskey Stump Key. Building the ferry park would require some excavation, and developers don't have permission yet to use the land.

At 9 minutes, Angela was just across the Alafia River, and we were pulling into the mouth of it.

The actual port would be a bit farther south than where we landed, so we'll add two minutes plus 10 more for slow zones and docking. That makes our total boat trip about 22 minutes.

Angela's trip took 33 minutes. For those who don't work at the base, an estimated 5,300 families with members who do live in southern Hillsborough County, so ferry supporters say that if they all used the boat service, there would be a big reduction in traffic congestion on U.S. 41 and interstate 75. This would shorten the commute for drivers.

Ferry users would still have to drive the short distance to the terminal.


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