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- 2012 - October - 9th -

Ferry commission faces decision on repair options

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

A few items remain on the list to complete the transfer of St. Johns River Ferry operations from the Jacksonville Port Authority to the City, but the St. Johns River Ferry Commission will shift its focus to finding funding for capital improvements, mainly the ship’s docking structures.

The commission plans to meet with port staff Oct. 22 to discuss its options for repairing the ferry’s docking system and to find funding for the project.

The port has pledged to pay for the cost of design for system repairs through grant funding from the Florida Department of Transportation, but the clock is ticking on those funds.

“We need to make sure that the project makes progress at some point. We cannot continue to put it off indefinitely. I know you are getting settled in, but there is a lot of focus on grants that are not moving forward,” said James Bennett, Florida Department of Transportation District Two Urban Transportation Development manager.

Bennett explained that $472 million has recently become available for transportation projects because projects were not moving and the funding was pulled away.

“We don’t want to see that happen with the money JaxPort has for the project,” said City Council member John Crescimbeni, who chairs the commission.

A design cost for the repairs has been estimated at $224,000.

The main reason the port decided to step away from operating the ferry is the $7 million to $11 million needed for repairs to the aging docking facilities at Heckscher Drive and Mayport Village. The port recently contracted the Shaw Group Inc. to provide cost estimates on repairs to the ferry’s fendering system, and two options were presented.

Option A would repair the current system in phases over the next 10 years, with the first phase of repairs costing about $4.5 million and the total cost of repairs over 10 years at $11 million.

The system was constructed in the 1950s and has experienced eight “major” upgrades/repairs to date, the port reported.

Option B involves a complete replacement of the current system at a cost of about $6.7 million.

Shaw recommended Option B to the port in an April 2 letter because of the history of repairs to the current system and the potential long-term cost savings with the new system.

The commission also learned Monday that sales of coupon books for the ferry under the City’s operation were met with good response. Despite an increase from $60 to $80, ferry operator Hornblower Marine Services reported sales of 143 ticket books during the first week of City operation.

“We have had a good response,” said Mark Fernandez, general manager of Hornblower, St. Johns River Ferry.

The commission approved the printing of 500 more ticket books after the port donated the first batch of 500 new ticket books.

The commission is considering placing advertising on the back of the books and decided to print 500 while it pursues advertisers.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com

@photojoe71

356-2466

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