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Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr. - From left, Lisa King, a grant writer and Langton Associates vice president, discusses St. Johns River Ferry grant options with St. Johns River Ferry Commission members Aaron Bowman and City Council member John Crescimbeni.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 8, 201312:00 PM EST

Federal ferry funds much less than expected

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

The St. Johns River Ferry Commission was expecting to apply for grants from a federal ferry fund it estimated would have $500,000 available, but a subcommittee Wednesday discovered only $18,000 would be available for Florida this year.

The top two priorities for the commission are to find funding for a regularly scheduled out-of-the-water overhaul and the replacement of slip walls where the ferry docks on each side of the river. The overhaul has an estimated cost of about $1 million, while the slip walls are estimated to cost about $11 million.

"We need to focus on finding funding for the overhaul, because if we can't pay to take the ferry out of the water in December, we won't have to worry about the slip walls," said City Council member John Crescimbeni, who chairs the commission.

The commission had identified funding in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act as a ferry overhaul funding source.

The act includes a Construction of Ferry Boats and Terminals program the commission estimated would have $500,000 available. The commission was awaiting the terms and grant application deadlines for the act, which was signed into law July 6 by President Barack Obama as the federal government transitioned out of its Ferry Boat Discretionary program.

The new fund no longer has set-asides for specific states, and funding under the program is no longer discretionary. Instead, funds will be allocated to states, U.S. territories and Puerto Rico and eligible entities.

The ratio is 20 percent based on the number of ferry passengers carried, 45 percent based on the number of vehicles carried and 35 percent based on the total route miles serviced by each system.

The subcommittee consists of Crescimbeni, commission members Aaron Bowman and Marla Buchanan and grant writer Lisa King. They said they were surprised with the small portion of the nearly $31 million Florida received.

"My guess is that our ox is not the only one that got gored," said King.

James Bennett, Florida Department of Transportation Urban Transportation Development Manager for District 2 supplied the information about the act's funding. Subcommittee members requested he represent the ferry commission in asking the Federal Highway Administration, which administers the fund, to provide information on who provided the data to assist in making the allocations, where the data came from and if the commission could review the data used.

He agreed, but informed them what would entail changing the allocation structure.

"Just take into consideration, if you are going to get more from the fund, someone else will be getting less. That's going to be tough to do now that this list has been published," said Bennett.

Also, the subcommittee decided not to pursue Florida Inland Navigation District grants because its funding is to be used for capital improvements to alleviate problems associated with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

The commission decided if it can't receive funding for the ferry overhaul, then it won't need capital improvement funding from the district.

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