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The planned Pensacola Bay ferry service continues to move forward, with both the Pensacola City Council and Escambia County Commission set to take up measures related to the service over the next week.

The ferry, which is planned to begin service in 2017, would travel between Downtown Pensacola, Pensacola Beach, and Fort Pickens, part of the National Park Service’s (NPS) Gulf Islands National Seashore. The service would be operated by NPS through a concessionaire, much like its well-used Ship Island ferry service in Mississippi. Just last month, the Park Service awarded the contract for two 150-passenger ferry boats.

Tomorrow, the Escambia County Commission is set to vote on an agreement related to the grant dollars which will be used to design a ferry landing at the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk. Design and construction of the landing will both be funded by grant dollars from the Federal Land Access Program. The total amount secured by the County and National Park Service for the project is $979,439; $117,032 will be used for the master plan and design phase.

Proposed ferry route for the Pensacola Bay ferry service. (Special to The Pulse)

Proposed ferry route for the Pensacola Bay ferry service. (Special to The Pulse)

Next week, Pensacola’s city council will vote on a proposed general agreement that establishes the operating relationship between the City of Pensacola and the Park Service. Under the agreement, the City and NPS would coordinate marketing efforts, facilities maintenance, and other issues. The agreement asks the City to waive use and occupancy fees for the first five years of ferry service in order to minimize costs and maximize ridership.

The Council is also being asked to award a contract to Atkins North America for the design and engineering of the Pensacola-side ferry landing, which will be located at Commendencia Slip, near Plaza de Luna. Atkins was chosen by a selection committee last month as the best of three finalist firms. The $1.3 million contract would be funded using federal grant dollars awarded last year.

Proposed ferry landing at Pensacola Beach (Special to The Pulse)

Proposed ferry landing at Pensacola Beach (Special to The Pulse)

These latest milestones come as Fort Pickens Road reopens today after being closed for more than a week. The remnants of Hurricane Patricia left much the road covered in several feet of sand, cutting off access to Fort Pickens. Gulf Islands National Seashore officials have repeatedly pointed to the road’s vulnerability to storms as a central reason why ferry access should be established.

The two 150-passenger catamaran ferry boats currently under construction will feature a climate-controlled enclosed main deck and a shaded upper deck for observation, will be equipped with a snack bar for food and beverage service, restrooms, passenger storage, flat screen TVs and a sound system for on-board interpretation by NPS rangers. The boats will be fully accessible, meeting all ADA standards, and will have bike racks for those wishing to explore Fort Pickens or Santa Rosa Island by bicycle.

Earlier this year, National Park Service officials estimated the cost of a round-trip ferry ticket will be between $10 and $15 and will include admission to the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Tickets will offer “hop-on, hop-off” privileges, allowing passengers to travel in either direction between the ferry’s three endpoints during the day. The Park Service has estimated that over 65,000 passengers will take advantage of the ferry system each year.

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