By next spring a person will be able to purchase a ferry ticket and enjoy cruising the waters between Pensacola and Pensacola Beach. Ferry service has been on the drawing board for a while, and Escambia County Commission Chairman Grover Robinson couldn’t be more ready for its materialization.
“I’m very excited to see it come to fruition after being talked about for some time,” the commissioner said last week during a presentation of plans for a ferry landing at Quitewater Beach.
Robinson painted the ferry service as a key component in area development and progress, most notably by encouraging foot traffic and easing auto traffic congestion.
“I think this is going to be one of the most important things for Pensacola Beach and Pensacola, in general,” he said, stressing the importance of giving people “an opportunity to get around without ever getting back in their car.”
The ferry service will transport passengers, for about $15 or $20 per person, between downtown Pensacola, the Quitewater Beach boardwalk and Fort Pickens. The project — a cooperative effort between the Gulf Island National Seashore, the city of Pensacola and Escambia County — is being funded in large part by Natural Resource Damage Assessment money stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, with the partner entities making improvements at their respective landing sites.
Escambia County representatives presented the changes in store for the Quitewater Beach ferry landing site during a July 28 public meeting, describing a three-phased project slated for the boardwalk’s pier and surrounding area.
Phase one involves the design and construction of the new dock that will extend from the existing dock and serve as the point of boarding and departure. This initial phase will also incorporate a ticket kiosk, as well as ADA accessibility improvements to the boardwalk.
Escambia County was able to get $963,000 in grant funding from the Federal Lands Access Program through the Federal Highway Administration to fund phase one. The county has not secured funding for the remaining phases, which are estimated to run $2.2 million.
David Forte, the county’s Transportation and Traffic Operations division manager, said the county will again try to tap the FLAP funds when the grant cycle opens in the fall. That could prove difficult, as Commissioner Robinson noted during the meeting that the request would equal much of the access program’s available funds.
Phase two and three of the county’s improvement are arguably less integral for the initiation of service. Phase two calls for widening the boardwalk’s existing pier from 8 feet to 14 meet, to mirror the landing at Fort Pickens and allow for additional space for ferry passengers to traverse. Phase three involves constructing a shade structure, or palapa, to shield waiting ferry passengers from the sun.
Questions were raised during the recent meeting about the chance that people might not be up for paying to ride a ferry to places they are currently accustomed to driving between. It was pointed out that the area was car-centric and other forms of public transportation are not highly used.
Robinson said he believed that the service would prove popular.
“I think there will be a number of times that people say, ‘I don’t want to park out there, I don’t want to drive out there,” he said. “If you don’t ever try something you’ll never change that mindset.”
The commissioner also said the ferries represented more than transportation, but also an experience — a chance to get out on the water.
“You can see Pensacola and Pensacola Beach in a so much different way when your on the water than when your on the land,” Robinson said.
Ferry service is schedule to begin March 2017.