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Jax Daily Record Thursday, May 10, 201805:22 AM EST

The Cawton Report: St. Johns River Ferry awarded $3.356 million grant

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Money from Federal Transit Administration will be used for repairs and improvements.
by: David Cawton Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration awarded a $3.356 million Passenger Ferry Grant to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to continue repairs and improvements to the St. Johns River Ferry. 

The JTA announced the grant Tuesday in a news release. 

“Ridership continues to grow, and improvements to the ferry’s infrastructure will continue thanks to grant awards that the JTA has received from the FTA,” JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford said in the release. 

Cocoa-based C&D Construction Inc. was awarded a $4.5 million contract in 2015 to complete the multiphase ferry rehabilitation project.

“With this recent award, the JTA will continue to strengthen the ferry’s infrastructure, and give our riders a safe and reliable service,” Ford said. 

C&D Construction will continue working on Phase III of the project, rebuilding the ferry’s land infrastructure, including its terminal bridges and stopping mechanisms. 

The project requires replacing the existing ferry slip walls, fenders, walkways and bulkheads along the St. Johns River. 

Phase III should be completed by January, according to the release. 

JTA spokeswoman Leigh Ann Rassler said Wednesday that $2 million of the grant is earmarked for required maintenance and rehabilitation of the ferry, the Jean Ribault.  

Rassler said the Ribault will be out of service from Sept. 4 through Oct. 31 to complete the work. There is no backup ship, so there will be no ferry service for eight weeks.

She said the remaining grant funds will go toward Phase IV, which involves adding vertical panels on the fender walls to enhance operational safety and improve long-term maintenance on the slip walls. 

The ferry has operated as a local government service since 1948, connecting Florida A1A from Mayport Village to Fort George Island.

HMS Ferries Inc. operates the vessel on behalf of JTA. 

The 0.9-mile voyage crosses the St. Johns River 2.5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

The ferry operates 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekends. It departs from either side of the river every half-hour. Fares are $6 for cars and $1 for passengers. Fares are higher for larger cars and buses.

The Jean Ribault is the fourth ferry used since 1948. It was built in 1996 and has operated since 2012. It holds about 40 vehicles and 206 passengers. 

According to property records, ownership of the 4.05-acre combined sites changed hands four times between JaxPort, the city and JTA since 2007, with JTA buying the property from the city in March 2016. 

Over the years, budget cuts from the city and the Jacksonville Port Authority threatened to halt the service. 

In 2012, the port authority said it would stop operating the ferry because of an estimated $650,000 annual budget shortfall. That led to the creation of a Ferry Task Force and the St. Johns River Ferry Commission. 

The nonprofit Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry advocates on behalf of the service.

Rassler said JTA spends $2,147,303 annually operate the ferry.  

Since JTA assumed ownership, it has embarked on cosmetic enhancements in addition to infrastructure work, including new landscaping, upgrades to restrooms, restriping of queue lanes, removing obsolete buildings and other projects. 

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