A new study by the Florida Department of Transportation identifies huge rewards in return for one of two huge investments.
Titled "Tampa Bay Cruise Study Pre-feasibility," the report predicts the local cruise industry could provide 5,000 cruise-related jobs, and triple the annual economic impact to $1 billion.
But that potential faces a critical chokehold.
"After five years, 10 years perhaps, over 90 percent of the cruise fleet will not be able to come under the Skyway Bridge," Port Tampa Bay Executive Vice President Raul Alfonso told FOX 13 News. "Imagine if we were not to do anything...we're going to be out of the cruise industry."
LINK: Read the study (PDF)
Without making recommendations, the study identifies two viable options:
A new Sunshine Skyway Bridge would take several years to design and build at an estimated cost of $2 billion.
A new "seaward" cruise facility just outside the mouth of Tampa Bay would cost under $700 million. However it would need at least 50 acres and a channel through environmentally sensitive shallows, plus logistical infrastructure for getting passengers and baggage to and from the vessels.
"The next step will be looking at the real economics of it -- what course of action," Alfonso said, "the environmental impact, if any. What will it be for each."
The report calls a third option "risky" -- Elevating the middle section of the existing bridge. That would cost an estimated $1.5 billion and the study did not express any certainty of success.
The fourth option: Do nothing.
"I think that we all agree that it's too important for this region not to do anything, so we're doing something," Alfonso stated. "The cruise industry will continue to grow. We must be a part of that, it's too important for the region."
He agreed there is not a lot of time to ponder which course to pursue, because any of the solutions would take years to complete as the cruise fleet keeps growing taller.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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