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Vessels Ordered For Pensacola Bay Ferry Service

Ferry service on Pensacola Bay is moving full speed ahead towards a launch date of March, 2017.

The latest step forward is the National Park Service’s award of a contract to All-American Marine. The Washington state-based firm will design and build two aluminum double-decker Catamaran-style ferry boats, each with a capacity of 150-passengers.

“The bottom deck, the cabin will be enclosed and air-conditioned. There will be a snack bar, rest rooms and so forth,” says Dan Brown, Superintendent at Gulf Islands National Seashore. “The second deck will be open-air, but it will be shaded. We’ll have bike racks on board, people will be able to stow their bikes so they can go ride out on the island.”

The $5 million-plus project will be funded by money from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill through NRDA – the Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Brown adds that work on the ferry system’s overall infrastructure has been going on now for some time.

“One of the first things that happened, we got our Fort Pickens ferry pier funded and constructed. That’s been in place for the better part of three years.”

The City of Pensacola has received about two million dollars from the Federal Lands Access Program for its docking and land side facilities at the Port of Pensacola – where boats will be berthed.

“[Escambia] County has been successful in getting the first phase of their grant funding, to build an 80-foot extension onto the existing public pier that extends behind the ‘clam shell’ amphitheater at Pensacola Beach,” says Brown. “That extension will be 16 feet wide, and designated for the ferry service.”

The agreement is expected to go before the Escambia County Commission later this month, and before the Pensacola City Council at its November meeting.

The anticipated route will be triangular, connecting Pensacola, Pensacola Beach, and Fort Pickens. Travel time will be 35-45 minutes at an average speed of 12 knots – or about 14 miles an hour. The vessels will operate simultaneously.

“One will be going in a clockwise direction around that triangular loop, and the other boat will go the other direction, counter-clockwise,” said Brown. “People will have the opportunity to get off and re-board the boat. Tickets will be structured so that people will have ‘hop-on and hop-off’ privileges. One ticket price to ride it all day long.”

Along with becoming a new tourist draw, Gulf Islands Chief Dan Brown says the ferries eventually could become a vital part of transportation for the park – where Fort Pickens Road has been damaged or destroyed by a number of hurricanes and lesser storms.

The National Park Service has $3.4 million for realigning the mile and a half stretch of Fort Pickens Road. But the project is on hold until next fall, after the nesting season