STEUBENVILLE - A port authority encompassing both sides of the Ohio River in the Brooke, Hancock and Jefferson County area was one of the chief recommendations for how the area can grow and prosper by the volume of freight that passes through as a freight study was presented Jan. 26.
The study, by Cambridge Systematics, a nationally known company that has done freight planning studies for major metropolitan areas, was funded in part by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the federal, Ohio and West Virginia transportation departments, the Federal Transit Administration and the WVU Foundation.
Barb Sloan, who presented an executive summary of the study to the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, said the bi-state port authority was set as a high priority by committees involved with the study, but would take time to put together.
She said first, the area should continue to work to expand and set up the Weirton Port Authority and a countywide port authority in Jefferson County, currently under discussion.
Sloan said the study set 16 recommendations. In addition to the port authority, the high-priority items on the list include working to expand investment in rail freight, exploring opportunities to connect rail and highway to the Ohio River for freight transfers, develop a regional marketing strategy to promote freight-related assets to potential freight-dependent industries and to identify new and available funding streams for freight improvements.
Robert Laukert, Wintersville representative to BHJ and chairman of its technical advisory committee, said he supports continuing with the steering committee that helped in development of the plan, to implement its recommendations and monitor progress.
"We don't meet that often, but it's very educational and I would encourage the individuals here to partake of the opportunity to participate in the future. We really need it for the area to progress. We just can't sit still," Laukert said.
Assets for freight identified in the study include low congestion, low costs, low taxes, ready and able workers, an already well-developed infrastructure with a highway system that is in good condition relative to the rest of the nation and access to the most populous regions of the nation.
Trends identified in the study, based on historic performance, include seeing a continued population decline, projected in the study to see the three counties drop from 124,096 residents in 2008 to an estimated 108,276 in 2030. The bulk of that is projected to come out of Jefferson County, where the population is estimated to go from about 67,500 in 2008 to 55,900 in 2030.
However, even the population drop can have advantages in reduced congestion, she said, which can be important in attracting freight-dependent industries.
One finding in the study is a need for tractor-trailer parking and rest areas. Because of federal restrictions on the number of hours drivers can drive in a day, and loading docks with restricted hours, often trucks end up parked in the area along highways and off-ramps.
Toronto Mayor John Geddis said he sees that need in his community, where the TIMET titanium plant receives as many as 80 trucks a day for delivery and shipping, all between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The study, Sloan noted, uses a federal database dating to 2007 that would not be updated until later this year, so some of the conditions reported already have changed. Further, she said, the study should be updated periodically to reflect actual changes that occur.
John Brown, BHJ executive director, said for instance, he disagrees with the projection that the percentage of freight being handled by highways will continue to increase through 2040, which fails to take into account development of freight movement through the Panama Canal and up the Mississippi and Ohio River system, which is a focus by the federal government.
"But I understand where you got that," he said of the database.
Brown said the study has great worth for planning and development.
"To live in a competitive transportation world, we need to do freight studies. This translates to jobs, investment and a new economy for us," he said.
Sloan said marketing efforts can play on the accessibility of the Ohio River, available railroad capacity, the proximity to major markets and the proximity to the air cargo hub at the nearby Pittsburgh International Airport, as well as the corporate aircraft capability of the Jefferson County Air Park.
(Giannamore, who is business editor for the Herald-Star, can be contacted at email@example.com.)