Making Change: Orange Cones for the Economic Good

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The last time you careened down the highway - maybe you're there now - did you notice the trucks, by any chance? There're a lot of them out there and they're hauling a lot of cargo, about 6 billion tons worth this year.

Tracy Drake: U.S. Department of Transportation predicts that will grow to 12 billion tons in the next 10 to 15 years.

To Tracy Drake, CEO of the Port Authority in Columbiana County, just south of Youngstown, that growth is good news. Drake says, state and federal departments of transportation can't afford to build new highways to accommodate that kind of traffic, which means shippers will be looking to the waterways, especially the Ohio River, which happens to be under the Columbiana Port Authority's jurisdiction.

Tracy Drake: We are the northern-most point which connects with the Mississippi River. So we are an international port system.

The Cleveland-Pittsburgh trade zone, or corridor, is the fourth-largest market in the nation, Drake says. It's located pretty much in the center of New York, Chicago and Atlanta, making it a prime location for shippers. Drake says the region's appeal is about to grow even more. By mid-2004, the port will have a new "Intermodal Industrial Facility" - that's a place where cargo packed in containers can move directly from truck to rail or rail to boat or boat to truck - and it will only cost $15 million to build.

Tracy Drake: If you compare that to the cost of building highways, that's approximately the cost of two miles of interstate highway. It's a very good bang for the buck, if you will. It's a good use of taxpayer dollars, at least by my way of thinking.

As David Goss sees it, getting the multi-modal facility up and running is another feather in Northeast Ohio's cap.

David Goss: I'm very bullish about the future as it relates to the transportation infrastructure here.

He should know. Goss is senior director of transportation and development at the Greater Cleveland Growth Association. He says new shipping opportunities isn't the only thing that's about to improve the region's business climate.

David Goss: We've got some major projects on the drawing board moving into engineering. Rebuilding the inner belt, reconfiguring the Shoreway a whole new potential of a Lake Erie ferry, which has major implications for trade with Canada.

All of these improvements could cost as much as $5 billion over the next decade. But it's a worthwhile investment, he says. It will connect the region to the Lake and it will connect Cleveland, the region's core, to the rest of Northeast Ohio. Even people in Medina County see the benefit of that, says Medina County Commissioner Steve Hambley. Medina is the fastest growing county in the region-population there jumped 23% in the past decade. Hambley says road construction in Medina County is struggling just to catch up with that growth. He says any improvement to the state's highways will provide his constituents with a fundamental need.

Steve Hambley: Access to what we don't have here in my county.

That means a way to get to jobs, higher education opportunities, cultural institutions.

Steve Hambley: It's just not... I've got a nice house with some acreage and some woods around it and a nice neighborhood. It's also access to the airport, access to the sports arena, access to the Brown's game, access to the museums, access to some of the best medical systems in the world. Thirty minutes away. That's what defines my quality of life.

Hambley says any improvements to the region's transportation infrastructure enhances quality of life for Medina County residents, and that includes the new multi-modal facility two hours away in Columbiana County. Hambley says increased commerce, even in Columbiana County, trickles out to the rest of the region in the form of jobs and increased business opportunities.

The Growth Association's Dave Goss says when both outlying communities and the City of Cleveland understand the mutual benefit of enhancing the entire region's transportation network, then Northeast Ohio is that much more likely to enjoy a hearty economy.

David Goss: Infrastructure isn't the only piece of that. But by providing good access to and from and a system that supports a manufacturing economy and that gets people to jobs, that becomes a key foundation. You've got to provide the amenities, you've got to get the jobs and hopefully they go together.

Goss says it's not enough just to have highways, waterways, railroads and airports. None of that alone gives the region a competitive advantage. What makes the region stand out to national and international distributors is the extent of the region's transportation system and the ease of moving goods through Northeast Ohio. Maintain a smooth system, Goss says, and the economic benefits are sure to raise the quality of life for everyone in the region. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.

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