Tampa Bay Business Journal: “Tampa mayoral candidate Ed Turanchik on transit: Keep it local”

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This article was featured in the Tampa Bay Business Times on June 29, 2018

Start small. Think big.

In that order.

That’s an oversimplified but good way to sum up Tampa Mayoral candidate Ed Turanchik’s transit plan.

“My focus is on live/work corridors and solutions that make sense in each corridor,” Turanchik told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “It’s the opposite approach that we’ve [been taking].”

Rather than focusing on enhancing regional connectivity, Turanchik instead wants to perfect community-focused transit routes that, together, could support an entire network. Without it, he said there’s no reason to bother funding additional regional transit.

“When a high-capacity, high-frequency bus stops at an interstate transit terminal on Interstate 275, how does someone then get to International Plaza or the Westshore District?” Turanchik mused.

He touched on an issue that plagues transit districts everywhere known as the first-mile/last-mile issue. It’s when transit networks connect to general work centers and residential areas, but lack any connectivity between transit stations and final destinations.

That problem is why Turanchik describes a 41-mile proposed bus rapid transit route running along I-275 between St. Petersburg and Wesley Chapel as a non-starter. Turanchik wouldn’t give specific routes or modes, but offered some hints about his transit mindset.

“It’s focusing on creating congestion-proof corridors,” Turanchik said.

That could mean a number of things. Bus rapid transit, when done properly, runs in dedicated lanes that aren’t subject to vehicular traffic. Light rail is safe from congestion. Even more futuristic solutions that Turanchik says are closer than people realize could solve transit problems if they operate outside the flow of general traffic.

Turanchik’s emphasis for now is figuring out where transit needs to be and who it needs to connect. The mode of transportation will depend on what’s best for each individual corridor.

“There’s so much focus on light rail and I don’t know, at this point, whether they’re talking about the technology or just a rail-like thing,” Turanchik said. “My strategy is one that can marry up with the technology and modes in due course.”

For example, there are vehicles available now that run on rubber tires like a bus, but that are fully autonomous and operate on a fixed route like a train. Some of them even look like trains.

High-speed rail reality

While Turanchik is hyper-focused on local transit, he’s also aware of regional needs and opportunities if connectivity improves. He said he’s going to do everything he can to make sure the Brightline high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando happens. The group All Aboard Florida wants to lease the state-owned right of way along Interstate 4 to build a privately funded rail line. Turanchik was part of the effort years ago to dedicate the I-4 right of way for high-speed rail that was ultimately squashed when Florida Gov. Rick Scott turned down $6 billion in federal funding for it.

“If you had a transit option that gets you to Orlando International Airport in 45 minutes and Disney in 35, we create a super regional workforce, attractions and economic opportunities,” Turanchik said. “It means a business can locate in Tampa or Orlando and have two great airports. And you’ll see a shift in tourism dynamics as well.”

Turanchik said the Brightline proposal could even lend itself to the debate over whether or not to build a baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Ybor City. Right now transit options getting into that area are lacking, but a connection to Orlando could increase attendance among Central Floridians. The team wants to move from its home in St. Pete in order to improve game attendance.

A ferry good day

Turanchik is also continuing to push for waterborne transportation options, an area of advocacy that earned him the nickname “the ferry godfather” and causes him to happily end his conversations with, “Have a ferry good day.”

As an attorney with Akerman LLP, Turanchik has worked as a consultant for HMS Ferries for years. He successfully worked with the company and four local governments – Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and the cities of St. Pete and Tampa – to launch the Cross Bay Ferry pilot project connecting St. Pete and Tampa across Tampa Bay.

Turanchik is making the case for two services – one connecting south Hillsborough County to MacDill Air Force base on weekdays during commuting hours and another Cross Bay Ferry-type service between downtown St. Pete and Tampa on nights and weekends.

The MacDill service would capture a wide variety of commuters in an area transit-deficient while the St. Pete service would offer entertainment commuting options found popular during the Cross Bay Ferry’s six- month pilot project in 2016.

Turanchik acknowledges funding for transit will always be an issue. He said he supports additional funding for transit projects, but he hasn’t considered a possible referendum a group of private citizens is trying to get on the November ballot for a one-penny sales tax.

“As mayor, having that amount of resources would be absolutely super, but it’s also an opportunity for bad projects getting done because there’s so much money,” Turanchik said.