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Why mega cruise ships may never sail into Tampa

Looking to set sail on a cruise out of Tampa? It's not going to be on a mega ship anytime soon - if ever.

Taxpayers forked out $150,000 dollars for the Florida Department of Transportation to study possible options to bring the bigger ships into the port that are now limited by the Sunshine Skyway bridge.

Two years later, nothing has been done with those recommendations.

In order for the mega ships to get into Tampa Bay, FDOT recommended a new bridge, raising the existing one or building a new cruise facility on the other side of the bridge. So far, leaders have gone with option 4: Do nothing after looking at costs and inconvenience to drivers who use the existing bridge.

“We need the big ships," says cruise passenger Tom O'Neill. "We want to compete with Miami. It's too far to drive.

"Tampa needs to compete, so bring on the big ships."

O'Neill wants the local convenience of the mega ships that are kept out of the bay right now because of the Skyway.

“For Tampa to be a Top 10 market, they're going to need that bridge to come down,” he says.

The FDOT study estimates that a new Skyway would cost $2 billion and take four years to build.

To raise the bridge, it’s a $1.5B price tag, in addition to closing it for up to two years and impacting thousands of drivers.

“It's like this much space to (drive) through. That's a lot of people you're inconveniencing for a long time,” says Tampa resident Marvelle Smalley.

But what's taken so long to decide? FDOT passed the study on to the port two years ago. The port tells 10News it's up to area leaders. So, 10News went to talk with Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn. When asked if the study was a waste of money, he responds, “No, you don’t know until you do the study."

Buckhorn believes continuing to cruise along with the smaller ships outweighs the cost to make a change.

“I think the realization was we are not going to be a market for those super cruise ships. We never have been, we never will be, and that's okay. I think there's plenty of opportunities for mid-size ships,” says Buckhorn.

Carnival just announced a new ship, Miracle, that will call the port home year-round starting in 2018.

This year, the number of cruise passengers at Port Tampa Bay sank 2 percent, from 888,343 last year to 867,114.

There’s also a concern that the cruise lines will continue to emphasize their bigger ships.

“I think we're going to be competitive for at least another decade, and then we will have to revisit it, and think what our future is, and what the market is, and what Tampa looks like at that point," says Buckhorn.

"It could be at some point the real estate value is more than the cruise industry."

Buckhorn believes putting a new terminal on the other side of the bridge at Fort De Soto is a bad call for the environmentally-sensitive area and for fishing.

FDOT says another feasibility study would have to be done before moving ahead with any option.