Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Near-Abroad Pittsburgh

Columbus-Pittsburgh connectivity is a hot news item over the past two weeks. Null Space picked up on a story about a high-speed rail link between the two cities, resulting in an AntiRust riff about Pittsburgh as a bedroom community for the DC region. While I would welcome any policy or investment that would improve the relationship between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC, Columbus is already part of the Pittsburgh market:

JetBlue Airways Corp. said Tuesday that it will discontinue operations in Columbus and Nashville, Tenn., on Jan. 6, because of lagging business in those two markets.

"After more than 12 months of service and a detailed review of traffic and revenue trends in these two cities, we have decided to redeploy our assets," said Dave Barger, JetBlue's chief executive officer.

Dayton International Airport's management has talked periodically with JetBlue in efforts to persuade the low-fare airline to begin serving Dayton. The airport is still interested, spokesman Gene Conrad said Tuesday.

Dayton is served by nine airlines, with nonstop service to 22 cities.

Columbus is the only Ohio city where JetBlue operates. The next closest city to Dayton in the airline's operations network is Pittsburgh.

The hypothesis emerging from this bit of news is that JetBlue can capture Columbus passengers at its base of operations in Pittsburgh. I think my speculation has some merit given the discussions to improve the infrastructure between the two cities. My first piece of evidence comes from the Eastern Ohio Development Alliance (1999):

A 28-mile stretch between Cadiz and Newcomerstown is the only remaining gap in the four-lane highway connection running from the northeast edge of I-270 in Columbus all the way to the international airport on the northwest edge of Pittsburgh. When completed, this highway also will provide fast and easy access to I-77 for north-south travel and transport, including important direct links to regional cargo and passenger airports in Cleveland and Akron/Canton.

Part of the stimulus for completing this highway link is what Pennsylvania has done on its side of the border. Pennsylvania already has made major upgrades to U.S. Route 22, and work on the Findlay Connector, which runs south and west from the Pittsburgh International Airport, will begin in 2001. Pennsylvania's additional plans for further improving access to the airport will reduce drive times to and from Steubenville. These investments are critical, because they suggest that Ohio's strategy should be to complete the highway connection to Pittsburgh by linking U.S. Route 22 at Cadiz with U.S. Route 36 in Tuscarawas County.

Currently, at the eastern end of the macro corridor between Columbus and Pittsburgh, a modern four-lane highway (Route 22) connects Pittsburgh to Cadiz. At the western end, State Route 16 is being expanded to four lanes from Columbus to Coshocton, and then into Tuscarawas County via Route 36. All that's missing is the Cadiz-to-Newcomerstown connection--a straight shot of just 28 miles.

Improving the road between Columbus and Pittsburgh isn't a dead idea:

Economic development representatives, county commissioners, business leaders and others from a seven-county region stretching from Franklin County to Jefferson County are pushing ahead with efforts to have a four-lane highway connecting Columbus to Pittsburgh built.

The Columbus-Pittsburgh Corridor Committee met at the Hampton Inn off I-77 Friday morning with about 35 people in attendance. The group heard much about the Ohio Department of Transportation’s interpretation of the state budget and its impact on projects that aren’t in the construction phase.

The group wants a highway stretching from Columbus to U.S. Route 22 to provide a more direct link to Pittsburgh than exists today with congested Interstate 70 and I-79.

Standing in the way of the development of this corridor are advocates for Columbus as a regional center instead of a Pittsburgh satellite. The losers in this inter-regional competition are the people who live between the two cities. Just as Pittsburgh suffers from an irrational attachment to US Airways, the collective ego of Columbus was bruised with JetBlue's announcement to cease operations in Ohio's capital city.

With all due respect to Cleveburgh, the Columbus-Pittsburgh development corridor has some wheels. In fact, I think the Mon Valley should be more concerned with connecting with the airport than downtown Pittsburgh. With the retreat of US Airways from Pittsburgh, there should be plenty of underutilized capacity at the airport. Emerging in my mind (I'm sure I'm not the only one with this perspective) is an economic region centered at Pittsburgh International Airport.

No comments: