Saturday, December 16, 2017
Transportation

Call Ed Turanchik Tampa's official town dreamer

Every town has its characters, its politicians and misfits, its go-to good guys and inevitable bad ones. And somewhere in there, a town needs a dreamer.

We have Ed Turanchik.

He was a Hillsborough County commissioner, and if it is possible to have your head in the clouds and still be the smart guy in the room, that was him. He pushed for commuter rail nobody was buying and thought this would be a great place for the 2012 Summer Olympics, only for some reason they picked London instead.

But he also led efforts to end the region's water wars, and to get downtown what's now the Tampa Bay Times Forum. He ran for mayor and did not win. He built affordable homes in the city's hardscrabble urban core until the economy tanked. He was in on the crusade for high-speed rail, which we continue to not buy. (Sigh.) So maybe you were not surprised to hear he's connected to a proposal for high-speed ferry service across the waters between MacDill Air Force Base and south Hillsborough County, where thousands of base employees and personnel live.

Lawyer Turanchik's name is on a proposal promoting a public-private partnership for two 250-passenger ferries and later one to carry up to 500 people. In off-peak hours, the boats could ferry folks to downtown Tampa, and between the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. The proposal has numbers and details down to converting used ferries to jet drives out of concern for manatees.

Speaking of numbers, it seeks state and county money — about $22 million over three years in a document dated February, which may not be the final figure for the pitch. The economy is slowly waking, but public officials are as leery as people taking their first steps outside after a hurricane. Someone will say "boondoggle."

For the record, south county residents who work at MacDill — and even downtown — face a circuitous rush-hour commute by car to a place pretty much across the water from where they live. It is also true we don't always take advantage of the water we have — particularly on the Tampa side, where in downtown, we're just fully realizing a nice river runs through it. And remember that crazy idea to convert the old Gandy Bridge into a pedestrian and bike trail over the water? It only drew, oh, 600,000 or so people a year.

Turanchik declined to talk about the ferry proposal — a press conference is planned for next week — so I asked him about ideas that have worked or haven't over the years. "I love our community and I want it to be better and different than it is for the future of our kids," he says.

He told me about a recent car trip from Yeehaw Junction to Tampa. The weather was spectacular, the breeze, the scenery, the music in his car, and he realized he'd driven the wrong way down back roads for what turned out to be a three-hour diversion. But he wasn't mad about going the wrong way for a while.

Evolving is not something we do quickly around here. But maybe someday, when we have traveling options beyond one person per car, someone will think of the man they called Commissioner Choo Choo. You have the Ed Turanchiks around to say: Yeah, but what if it works?

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