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Ferry festival raises awareness about future funding

10:39 PM, Oct 12, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Thousands joined together to support the St. Johns Ferry Saturday. 

The second annual Ferry Festival took place at Mayport Village, and even though the ferry has received the funds it needs to secure another year of operation, members of the Ferry Commission say it needs to be recognized as a major transit like any other.

Over 5,000 people chose to support the St. Johns Ferry Saturday afternoon. The second annual Ferry festival was a chance to bring up the ongoing troubles the ferry faces. 

"Years ago since it started, the FDOT ran it and then when they said 'okay we're stopping,' then Mayor Delaney took it and then the city gave it to the port, the port then gave it back to the city and it's been an ugly stepchild," said Elaine Brown, St. Johns Ferry Commission.

Brown said 250,000 vehicles use the ferry every year and 600 people use it daily. 

Linda Lentjes is one of those people.

"Having the ferry here is just a lifesaver," said Lentjes. "I can't even imagine having to drive because the few times that it's down for maintenance, it's just such a hassle to drive all the way around." 

Lentjes of Fernandina Beach takes the ferry to work at Naval Station Mayport every day at 7:15 a.m. and then to go back home after work at 6 p.m. Without it, she'd have to drive an extra 30 minutes each way.

"It takes me about 20 to 25 minutes to get from my house to the ferry, if I had to drive around, it'd take me almost an hour depending on traffic," said Lentjes.

Lentjes is what Victor Garcia calls a regular. Garcia works on the ferry and guides about 300 cars in and out from Mayport to Fort George Island during his shift every day.

"A lot of people use it because it saves them time and gas and wear and tear on the car, that if they have to go around it's about 20 to 25 miles around just to get to point B," said Garcia. 

The importance of the ferry is evident to its daily riders, but it's also gathering more awareness from rest of the community after the Mathews Bridge was hit by a Navy ship over two weeks ago. 

"It's like any highway, it's a bridge and it's never going to make money so just like the Mathews Bridge being closed right now and everybody having to go around, what if that had been the Dames Point Bridge?" said Brown.

The city budget has the ferry covered for the next fiscal year, but each year it has to steer away from troubled waters.

"Every year the ferry runs at a deficit, when it runs at a deficit, there has to be a way of making it up. The city council this year has kicked in the 450 ($450,000) and next year we'll be looking to do the same thing with the deficit, but we're looking to for permanent financing for the ferry forever, JTA, the state, whatever it might be," said Brown.

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