Transportation, part 1, historical retrospective

Way back when the country was first being settled, and travel over land was difficult, the highways were the waterways.  Settlements were most dense along navigable waterways.  Lorain, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo are examples of cities that lie alongside navigable waterways.  Shipping from Cincinnati down the Ohio to the Mississippi and down to New Orleans was pretty quick.  From New Orleans, freight could be shipped up the Atlantic Seaboard.  This was a lot easier than hauling freight over the Appalachian Mountains.  Once iron ore was located in large quantities in the region surrounding Lake Superior, the steel industry fueled the growth of Northeast Ohio, as ore flowed into Lake Erie ports to converge with coal from nearby Southeast Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania.  Once canals and locks were added to the Great Lakes, the Lake Erie ports, via the Saint Lawrence Seaway, were closer to European ports than were the major ports along the Eastern Seaboard (due to the curvature of the Earth’s surface), providing this area with an advantage when it came to exporting goods.

Land transportation kept improving, however, with the construction of the National Road that led from Wheeling WV through towns like Cambridge, Zanesville, Columbus, and Springfield before crossing the state line into Richmond IN.  At the heyday of canals, about 1830, railroads were first being pioneered.  In the 1870’s to the beginning of the 20th century, railroads were extremely important to shipping.  Towns that lay along crossroads or canals that were bypassed by the railroad lines had their growth stunted.  Paved roads eventually eclipsed the railroads as the automobile industry took off, especially after more of the middle class were able to purchase cars.  For awhile, railroads and ocean-going vessels were still preferred methods of shipping huge amounts of freight, but with the advent of modern-day interstate highways, semi-trucks, and the recent predominance of just-in-time production schedules that keeps inventory levels low (thus allowing for smaller shipments), over-the-road shipping has scaled the heights to become king of the mountain.

Now settlements sprawl from interchanges along limited-access divided highways.  For a while, since automobile use grew year after year after year, towns like Fremont, Norwalk, Sandusky, Elyria, and Lorain were choosing to ease the congestion of their downtowns by diverting through-traffic along newly constructed bypasses.  Bypasses worked so well that traffic was indeed diverted from downtown, and businesses migrated from downtown to the outskirts to be near the bypass.  Luckily for major cities, like Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati, the interstates did manage to cross into the more central sections of those cities, although those inner cities still have to compete with the outerbelts.  Water transportation, while now slower, is still cheap for hauling huge amounts of freight, but now there are supertankers hauling freight across the oceans.  Guess what?  Supertankers don’t fit through the locks of the Welland Canal that links Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, neither are supertankers able to navigate the Saint Lawrence.  When it comes to shipping grain, coal, steel, and commodities like that which are shipped by the megatons, the Great Lakes ports are no longer as efficient as ocean ports.

It used to be that, pound for pound, hauling freight by air was expensive.  But with just-in-time production schedules, not a lot of pounds have to be shipped anymore.  In this instant gratification society that has an ever greater demand for overnight parcel delivery, organizations like UPS that you ordinarily think of as ground carriers, due to the ubiquitous brown delivery trucks, are actually hauling more and more parcels by airplane.  It used to be that corporate headquarters needed to be located conveniently in relation to an airport because business leaders had to be able to use air travel to keep track of their far-flung empires.  This is still true, even though telecommunications advances have allowed business leaders to stay home a lot more often.  But now, distribution centers and manufacturers also need to be conveniently located near airports because freight is being shipped more and more through the air.  In fact, distribution centers and manufacturers do very well when they are at an intermodal hub of air, rail, road, and water transportation.

To be continued at a future date . . .

4 Responses to “Transportation, part 1, historical retrospective”

  1. Brandon Rutherford Says:

    All good points but, what are we to do about it? Are we to make that investment in a infrastructural overhaul? And if they overhaul took place where would be be in terms of getting the jobs back here to put the men and women back to work? Just asking questions to spark conversation. Nothing more. I think Lorain Ford had a great setup of roadways and rail and Ford nor any big manufacturer wanted to move in and take it over.

  2. buckeyerino Says:

    Good thinking, Mr. Rutherford. Ford still has manufacturing facilities open in Cuyahoga County on Brook Park Road that have similar road and rail connections, and they’re also just a stone’s throw away from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. How well connected is Lorain to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport? If I’m driving from downtown Columbus to Port Columbus airport along I-670, I can be at the airport in 15 minutes. If I’m on the eastern edge of Oberlin, I can follow Route 20 to Route 10 to I-480 and get to the airport in perhaps 20 minutes. From Lorain, getting to the airport seems like an eternity. If I’m in downtown Lorain, it can easily take me 15 to 20 minutes before I can reach the nearest highway, I-90. So, should Lorain stand pat, thinking it’s rail and road access is sufficient for contemporary commerce and industry? I think Lorain’s transportation grid gives me a headache, especially if I’m the one doing the driving.

  3. Transportation, part 2, the city of Lorain « Buckeye RINO Says:

    […] Transportation, part 1, historical retrospective […]

  4. Obama to visit Lorain County on January 22 « Buckeye RINO Says:

    […] Transportation, part 1, historical retrospective […]

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