Saturday, August 11, 2018

Ferry Dust

Ah... the good old days, way way back to May, 2013, when we were told we would have ferries running across Tampa Bay.
HMS and [Ed] Turanchik formally unveiled plans for what they are calling high-speed ferry service that would start as commuter boat transportation between MacDill Air Force Base and southern Hillsborough County, home to many of its employees. Ferry boats also would be used for transportation to large events on either side of the bay, such as Tampa Bay Rays baseball games in St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games in the Channel District.
Speakers at the presentation at the Tampa Bay Times Forum included Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman and Tampa Bay Lightning chief executive officer Tod Leiweke. 
"I think this has got some sex appeal to it," Buckhorn said.
Of course, it cost something to do anything, especially to pay for sex appeal.

The price tag for building docks, parking areas, two boats big enough to carry 250 to 300 people and trams at MacDill to get riders to their workplace on base could range from $11 million to $17 million for the first phase of about three years. That amount could climb $24 million in outlying years if the service takes off and a larger ferry is needed.
Turanchik is seeking to have state, local and federal government pick up those capital costs. So far the project has not yet landed state or federal dollars, which could leave much of the balance to fall on Hillsborough County, at least initially
No worries! A year later, local Congress person Kathy Castor answered the mail.
A proposed high-speed ferry that would link MacDill Air Force Base to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg got a boost Monday with the news of a $4.8 million federal grant. 
But don't start booking those boat rides just yet. Hillsborough County officials said a lot is still unknown about the public-private ferry, which would launch from Gibsonton in southern Hillsborough and primarily service MacDill employees who live in that area.
The grant, announced Monday in a news release by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, was part of $123.5 million the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded ferry projects across the country. 
"Tampa Bay's long-term economic future will significantly benefit if we develop options for people to travel to work and home," Castor said. "Investing in our infrastructure is key to growing jobs in our community and remaining competitive."
More ferry dust "economic future" and "significant benefits" promises if we get a ferry ferrying a couple of hundred of the reported 8,000 commuters to MacDill. Here's some money from Uncle Sam!

Is this want we wanted?

Public Domain,

After all it was a year since the announcement, so they needed the money. Especially since they had not done a thing to plan for the ferry, except add more uncertainty for the costs. And of course, get funding for a study to get more funding.
One of the many uncertainties giving county officials pause is the ferry's startup price tag. Castor's press release said $17 million. But Ed Turanchik, a lawyer and former county commissioner representing the companies who would run the ferry, told commissioners in February the cost was $24 million.
In February, county commissioners approved spending $125,000 to study the ferry's feasibility. That study is still ongoing, although Turanchik said he feels the argument for the ferry's value has improved since February.
Never doubt the wisdom of our county commissioners! Optimism reigns supreme!
With so much still uncertain, Hillsborough Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe said Monday he's still cautiously optimistic about the ferry's prospects. 
"There are a lot of issues involved, and this is a really complex piece," Sharpe said. 
Turanchik hopes to have the ferry running by October 2016, but acknowledges much work remains.
What do you know. October 2016 came and went. No ferry.

In early 2017, Kathy Castor became "frustrated"!
There would be no hard feelings if Hillsborough County decided to turn down federal money for a ferry connecting MacDill Air Force Base to south county and go it alone, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said. 
Still, Castor told the Tampa Bay Times she is "very frustrated" that county leaders are only now debating the best path forward to make the ferry a reality. Castor announced the $4.8 million Federal Transit Administration grant in 2014 and the project remains in limbo three years later. 
"It is frustrating to win a large federal grant and not be gung-ho at home about getting this done," Castor, D-Tampa, said.
Guess what? Costs rising!
But commissioners will have to decide if speeding up the time frame is worth sacrificing the federal aid. The project is expected to cost between $25 million and $30 million to purchase the boats and to build the south county landing dock and adjacent parking.
Yet the county is working hard on it. Just ask Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.
County Administrator Mike Merrill said the county is "diligently working" on it but it's a complicated project between the environmental concerns, including disrupting manatees, and the security questions of launching a boat to a military base. 
"There are so many moving pieces to this thing," Merrill said. "I know that people are frustrated because they look at it from the outside and wonder why is it taking so long. I would probably feel the same."
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County was promoting Go Hillsborough, yet another failed transportation "plan" to increase the sales tax 1/2 percent, which was to include the MacDill ferry somewhere in the plan, but no one was really sure. But Go Hillsborough failed when the County Commission finally started to listen to their constituents.

That left the MacDill ferry with no plan, and only $4.8 million from the Feds to pay for a $30 million project, likely to cost even more.

Which brings us to today.
If the long-awaited commuter ferry service between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base ever happens, it will likely be without federal money. 
Leaders of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority acknowledged Monday that project delays means they will lose a $4.7 million grant from the Federal Transit Authority.
To qualify, construction of the service needed to start by September 2019. But the county has yet to decide where to build a ferry terminal in South Hillsborough. The delay is partly due to federal red tape that came with the money, including a mandatory environmental impact study that would have taken up to two years.
4 years later. Still no plan.

Now the FTA wants their money back. In a letter dated July 26, 2018 from the FTA to Jeffrey Seward of HART.
Snippet from FTA letter to HART, July 26, 2018
John Lyons, Hillsborough County Director of Public Works, engaged AECOM consultants for some help. But they weere not able to bail out the county. After itemizing several activities required to start construction, none of which have been started, AECOM concluded:

Snippet from AECO to John Lyons, August 3, 2018
HART will have to notify the FTA it cannot meet the deadlines.
Its return has some HART officials fearing that the bus agency’s reputation has been damaged. 
As recently as last summer, HART and county officials told federal officials the project was still on track, said interim HART CEO Jeff Seward. 
"It was made explicitly clear at that time that HART is 100 percent accountable for use and non-use of the funds and the success of the project," Seward told the HART board Monday. "No other government entity bears that burden."
After nearly 5 years of talking, meeting, "planning", and getting FTA grants for a ferry, there is still no plan for a ferry.

Yet, optimism reigns supreme!
Tampa attorney Ed Turanchik, who represents HMS and South Swell and is running for mayor of Tampa, said the county’s decision to press ahead with local funding is the best outcome for the service, which he expects to be running in about three years. 
"It’s on a very fast track now," he said.
Where would you put your money?

Ferry plans turn to ferry dust.
The MacDill ferry has left and won't be coming back.

CC BY-SA 3.0,
Bonus question:

If HART's budget balloons to over $200 million per year with the recent "citizens" ballot initiative, will anyone really believe they and our esteemed planners can even plan to spend it on something productive?

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