Tampa Bay Business Journal: “Tech and transportation go hand-in-hand in mayoral hopeful Turanchik’s vision for Tampa”
Fixing Tampa’s abysmal transportation and transit network will be at the top of Ed Turanchik’s list of priorities if he’s elected mayor.
The transit activist and former mayoral candidate filed campaign paperwork Friday, becoming the first high-profile candidate to enter the race to succeed Bob Buckhorn.
From his vantage point officials have engaged for more than a decade in perpetual inaction.
“We keep trying to hit a grand slam, but we have no one on base,” Turanchik told the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Turanchik’s grand slam metaphor represents mobility. The players on base would be transit products. Turnachik wasn’t ready to discuss specific plans yet, but vowed he had the knowledge, skills and authority to implement noticeable changes to the way Tampanians get from point A to point B. His strategies would focus largely on innovation and strategy.
The proposals batted around throughout transit and political circles, much to Turanchik’s dismay, involve pricey and sweeping overhauls to regional transit. Hillsborough voters rejected a penny sales tax in 2010 that would have funded transit improvements. Voters in Pinellas County did the same in 2014. The latest proposal identified in the Florida Department of Transportation-funded Regional Premium Transit Feasibility Plan would create a 41-mile Bus Rapid Transit route connecting St. Petersburg and Wesley Chapel along Interstate-275.
Supporters say it’s a good plan because it can be implemented quickly and inexpensively. The BRT route would total about $450 million — about a tenth the cost of rail. But critics argue the route doesn’t qualify as BRT because not all of the service would run in dedicated lanes.
Turanchik is somewhere in the middle, agreeing the plan is cost effective, but worried the route focuses too much on regional connectivity at the expense of local connections. Those, he said, are a better way to expand transit incrementally without the shocking price tag.
“The driving objective is personal mobility, so people can live in key areas of the city and not need a car,” Turanchik said. “The more we can do that without new taxes and the more that can be done faster, that’s what I’m down for.”
Turanchik hinted he’s already working with companies and individuals who can help Tampa implement technology-driven solutions. He mentioned an electric “rail bus” in China now being tested that is capable of fully autonomous transit in a vehicle that looks like a train but rides on the road. The vehicle follows painted markings on the road that act similarly to a railroad track.
While he wouldn’t divulge details, Turanchik said creating a business climate ripe for technological innovation would go a long way in creating transit opportunities. One of Turanchik’s ancillary priorities is improving educational access and outcomes.
“This needs to be the place where great ideas come because we’re using great ideas to build the city of the future,” Turanchik said, describing a circular education climate where transit development fosters better education opportunities and vice-versa.
Turanchik is also committed to using tools the city already has. He’s supportive of expanding the TECO Line Streetcar beyond downtown Tampa and he nodded in approval when asked about the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s request to expand its taxing authority north of I-275 to make the popular downtowner free electric shuttle available to the emerging businesses along North Franklin Street.
Tuanchik is no stranger to transit initiatives. He earned the nickname “Choo Choo Turanchik” in the 90s after pushing a plan to convert a portion of the CSX corridor into passenger rail service. More recently Turanchik’s nickname to at least a few was “The Ferry Godfather” because he led efforts to bring waterborne transit to the region and was an integral part of securing the Cross Bay Ferry pilot project that ran for six-months in 2016 and 2017.
Turanchik served as a Hillsborough County Commissioner from 1990-1998 and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2011 when Buckhorn was elected. Turanchik said he’s confident this campaign will be a successful one.
“I’m in it early enough to make it happen,” Turanchik said.
Turanchik, an attorney with Akerman LLP, said he entered the 2011 race too late to adequately raise funds and earn support.
The Tampa attorney said he’s spoken with other Democrats expected to run for mayor including former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor and City Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen. Tampa business coach Topher Morrison and delivery truck driver Michael Anthony Hazard have also filed.