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A year-round Cross-Bay Ferry service takes a step closer to reality

Cross Bay Ferry

Hillsborough transportation officials approved the $6 million purchase of a permanent vessel.

Having a ferry regularly sailing the waters between Tampa and St. Petersburg took another step closer on Monday.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority officials voted to spend $6 million to help buy a permanent vessel.

The money would be used topay for a new or refurbished ferry to replace the chartered Cross-Tampa Bay ferry.If other funding is approved by officials from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and the city of St. Petersburg, it would become a year-round service.

The bulk of the money for buying the vessel would come from almost $5 million in federal transportation grants.

Board member and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor voted in favor, rejecting a motion to wait until a study is completed on the feasibility of expanding the ferry service.

"We've waited in Hillsborough County for way too long. And the traffic is not getting any better. It's getting worse every single day," Castor told her fellow board members. "And we are probably the only region that is on the water and doesn't look at the water as a viable source of transit."

Board member and County Commissioner Mike Owen voted no, saying he preferred to wait for a study on the feasibility of expanding the seasonal ferry service to be completed.

"There's a lot of issues related to how long is the actually going to take them to get there, by the time you park, take the boat, get to MacDill Air Force Base. Could you have driven there in the same time?" Owen said of the service, which is projected to connect the Apollo Beach area to the MacDill. "So there's a lot of issues, and we are having a lot of congesting issues in the south county, it's like nowhere else in the county."

The Cross-Bay Ferry now runs only seasonally, and is set to end in May. It is a joint project of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Cross Bay Ferry map
Cross Bay Ferry
Future Cross Bay Ferry service

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.