JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's a battle that started two years ago, when an inspection determined the slip walls on both docks for the St. Johns River Ferry needed to be not just repaired but replaced and one that continues through this day.
"We need a collaborative effort to save the ferry," says State Representative Janet Adkins.
Just this week, ferry officials supported by JTA filed a grant proposal for about $6.3 million to perform work on the slip walls, which buffer the ferry from the dock itself. Along with a $1.5 million commitment from the City of Jacksonville's Capital Improvement Project, the grant would fully fund the replacement of the walls which are now degraded and falling off. Adkins believes they are making better progress now than in the past two years because so many parties and agencies are coming to the table.
But those who wrote the grant are not optimistic that the entire proposal will be accepted, meaning that the funding fight continues.
"Being in a brackish saltwater condition, there's a slow evolution of deterioration there," says FDOT District Secretary Greg Evans.
Ferry General Manager Mark Fernandez tells WOKV if the full replacement of the slip walls doesn't happen within a year, emergency repairs- likely costing some $1 million- will be required. He says they haven't had a budget to maintain the slip walls since around 2010 so if more time passes without even some maintenance, the ferry itself is at risk for damage because the buffers preventing the ship from hitting the wood and steel dock siding will be gone.
"Then we're looking for more money anyways," Fernandez said.
Even if the grant is accepted in a phased approach, meaning they will repair one dock and then gradually fund the other in the future, transportation officials believe that will mean a higher cost for those eventual repairs.
State Representative Lake Ray also joined in the ferry ride and first-hand look at damage today. Both the lawmakers and other parties involved in the tour spoke about the need to push Florida's Congressional delegation for support for the competitive federal grants. Lisa King, Vice President for Langton Associates and grant writer, tells WOKV Jacksonville is competing for $6.3 million out of a pot of only about $30 million nationwide.
While there is another grant in the works to help fund the operational costs of the ferry as well, it is unclear what the next step would be if we do not get the desired funding level from the $6.3 million grant.