Thursday, February 22, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Turanchik's ferry plan makes sense but is likely doomed

Commissioner Choo-Choo has just morphed into Commissioner Anchors Aweigh!

You do have to hand it to former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik — at least he thinks big. There's something to be said for that, even if some of what Turanchik's critics might say is unprintable.

It was Turanchik who led the effort to bring the Olympic Games to Tampa Bay. Yes, those Olympics, even though the probability of landing the Games was about the same as Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods double-dating.

Turanchik was a big supporter of bringing affordable housing to Tampa and is perhaps best remembered for his leadership to develop a light-rail commuter system for the community. And somewhere along the way some snarky columnist dubbed Turanchik "Commissioner Choo-Choo." Or put another way, while certainly a visionary, Ed Turanchik has a batting average of success for his ideas that is about the same as Charlie Brown successfully accomplishing a place-kick.

But none of those disappointments deterred Turanchik, who recently has been touting creating a high-speed ferry service between Tampa's Channel District and downtown St. Petersburg.

Let the giggling begin.

Still, if you are among the tens of thousands of motorists who spend their mornings and afternoons staring at creeping rear bumpers, the idea of being able to hop on the SS Turanchik and avoid all the congestion suddenly makes the ex-commissioner's ferry less a folly and more a form of commuter emancipation.

To be sure, there are a few problems to overcome. Turanchik's client, HMS Global Maritime of New Albany, Ind., wants state, local and possibly the federal government to pick up the estimated $24 million tab to build the ferry docks, dredge bay beds and buy two 250-passenger boats to launch the service.

HMS Global would cover operational expenses. Thanks.

The plan also envisions an eventual docking facility in Gibsonton to accommodate service between southern Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base.

Still, other large metropolitan areas with expanses of water such as New York and Seattle depend on ferry systems to move people around. And you have to admit that ferries chugging back and forth in the movies always look, well, really cool.

So deploying a fleet of ferries back and forth across Tampa Bay does make some sense, which, of course, probably means it is doomed.

There will be some who will dismiss the ferry idea with a shrug and a "Well, there goes ol' pipe dream Eddie again." There are always people who, when you suggest stuff like high-speed rail, or even low-speed rail, or the completely foreign notion of using commuter boats to navigate Tampa Bay, can't start knee-jerking "No!" fast enough.

Maybe the Good Ship Turanchik will never launch.

Still, at least this somewhat goofy, bookish, wonkish — but also very smart — former public servant keeps ruminating about the future.

And isn't that a good thing?

On Jan. 1, 1914, a 25-year-old Tony Jannus piloted the first commercial flight in the nation, flying former St. Petersburg Mayor Abram Pheil across the bay to Tampa in 23 minutes.

That flight should have established Tampa as an innovative transportation hub. Instead, we seem stuck in 1913 with Ed Turanchik still trying to persuade people there are ways to get across Tampa Bay without sitting on I-275 for a couple of hours a day.

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