Ed Turanchik first mayoral candidate in Tampa to lash out against Hillsborough transit tax

Turanchik said that any argument for using light rail over BRT because of transit-oriented development became a farce when a main corridor being considered in the alternative analysis was to lay down tracks on I-275.  HART head David Armijo has said that "TOD" was still possible if the route were built upon the interstate, but Turanchik isn't buying that.


"Let’s cut through the Kool-Aid, let’s throw the Kool-Aid out. Let's be real. Let’s be business people," Turanchik told CL.  "Transit-oriented development, you’re going to go through places where it can happen. You’re not going  to build light rail in the Tampa Bay area, it will never happen. It won’t happen in our lifetime because it’s too expensive. It just won’t happen. We're at $100 to $120 million a mile now.  Twenty-one miles of light rail at $1.5 billion..they were at 2.5 billion and counting, and they hadn’t even done 1% of preliminary engineering."


Turanchik says that HART should have stuck with BRT,  which theoretically was still on the table until just weeks before the voters went to the polls (the fact that HART didn't officially decide until their October meeting between the two options, when advocates had been campaigning all summer long about light rail, makes little sense in retrospect).


"It's not  going to happen because it’s too expensive, in our lifetime. It’s the wrong solution for a regional approach.  ….this drumbeat for light rail…we’ve stopped thinking the light rail..I told everyone involved in it..for 18 months before it."


In an extremely competitive mayoral campaign, Turanchik is clearly taking up the space where the voters of Hillsborough County were earlier this month.  But not Tampa voters, as the measure did pass in the city, whose residents Turanchik needs to win over within the next 3 1/2 months to succeed Pam Iorio in office.


His heretofore rather low-key opposition to the measure will undoubtedly be part of his candidacy for mayor, as all the candidates will be queried as to where they stand on transportation and moving the city forward.


Meanwhile, the Tampa Tribune's Ted Jackovics seizes upon a comment made by Moving Hillsborough Forward's Gary Sasso about a plan to build a light-rail route from the proposed new high- speed rail station in downtown Tampa to Tampa International Airport in his story today.


Although the comment didn't receive much feedback during yesterday's panel discussion, the Tribune reporter quotes one of his bosses, John Schuler, president of Media General's Florida Communications Group, who has now replaced Sasso as the head of the Tampa Bay Partnership:


A light rail connection to Tampa's end of the Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed line would help preserve funding for that phase of the high-speed line, said John Schueler, who takes over chairmanship of the Tampa Bay Partnership today from Sasso.


Schueler said a Tampa light rail connection would eventually become part of a broader transportation plan.


And later Jackovics writes:


"We need to listen to the public and we have an obligation to create a plan that works the best," said Schueler, who is president of Media General's Florida Communications Group that includes The Tampa Tribune, WFLA-TV, Channel 8 and TBO.com. Schueler said it was premature to discuss funding for a Tampa light rail segment that could serve to attract more interest once the public could see and ride it.


Give some credit to Tampa's business leaders for not giving up hope on light rail, but just 16 days after county voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure in front of them, Schueler's words that it's "premature" to begin talking about funding is appropriate, lest he start to sound "tone deaf," as Mark Sharpe warned his fellow HART board members earlier this week.

In our report on a Tampa Downtown Partnership forum Wednesday on the failed Hillsborough transit tax, we literally downplayed comments made to us by Ed Turanchik at the end of the 90-minute forum.

But upon further review, we realized that they deserve to be revisited.

Turanchik is noted for being a big transportation advocate, and last year he worked with ConnectUS, the local organization formed to help bring federal funding to Florida for a high-speed rail line.  That effort came to fruition when President Obama announced a $1.25 billion stimulus grant to begin construction of that Tampa-to-Orlando route.

But we didn't speak with him much about the light-rail effort fostered by HART and Moving Hillsborough Forward, and according to Turanchik, those groups didn't have much time to hear him out either.  "There wasn't a whole lot of intellectual honesty in this whole thing," he told CL yesterday.  "Why are we picking light rail at 2 1/2 times the cost of BRT [Bus rapid transit] when they move the same amount of people?" he asked.

Although the other major candidates running for mayor of Tampa supported the Hillsborough County transit tax to varying degrees, there surely was an assumption that Turanchik, noted for his long time support of transit, backed it as well.  And as we reported from a HART meeting last February, Turanchik did address the HART board about putting a light rail stop in West Tampa.

But speaking to CL before the discussion ended Wednesday morning, the former County Commissioner and Sierra Club head made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with the losing effort.

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