Cross Bay Ferry service may soon expand to MacDill

Image 1 of 4

Ferry service between Tampa and St. Petersburg could soon be undergoing a major service expansion, project planners explained Tuesday.

Developers want to turn the Cross Bay Ferry into a year-round service - a popular idea among passengers who have enjoyed the ferry.

"It's a great idea I think for the military to get back and forth," said Jake Tiller, who recently took the ferry from St. Petersburg to Tampa to go to a Tampa Bay Lightning game. "I think also just town-to-town linking with the traffic that we've all been in, I think it's awesome."

HMS Ferries, which runs the vessels, and South Swell Development Corp. announced they submitted a proposal to Hillsborough County leaders Tuesday, offering to spend $100-million to cover operating costs during the next 20 years without any public funds. The county would have to spend $36.5-million as a one-time investment.

The plan calls for four new vessels based out of Williams Park in the southern part of the county. On weekdays, it would shuttle passengers to and from MacDill Air Force Base. On weeknights and weekends, the ferry would stop in downtown Tampa and St. Pete.

Ed Turanchik, a project planner, believes the cost to the county would be worth it for the increased ferry frequency.

"The schedule is absolutely incredible," he said. "Every 10 or 15 minutes a ferry will leave Williams Park and go to MacDill. Same way at night, every 10 to 15 minutes. There is no transit service on the west coast of Florida that has a frequency of service of 10 or 15 minutes. This is simply the very best transit that exists in the west coast of Florida."

The ferry is wrapping up its six-month re-launch this month. Turanchik said 48,000 passengers have ridden it this time. The Cross Bay Ferry initially launched a pilot program in 2016 and shuttled about 40,000 passengers between Tampa and St. Petersburg.

County leaders would have to approve the new proposal, which calls for year-round service by 2022.