There is no doubt that economic development is the overriding issue for all of us living in the 99th District. It is also true that as governmental leaders, we are deeply committed to create the conditions that attract and retain business, industry, and general commerce. In this column and the next, I will address the essential components of the two top determinants to create those very conditions: 1) an educated workforce; and 2) a dependable infrastructure.
In inverse order, let us examine a partial list of that which is commonly referred to as infrastructure — roads, bridges, railroads, lake ports, and airports. Likewise, water and sewer lines, electric and gas lines, and telephone/cable lines are also part of the infrastructure package.
Oftentimes we simply take such things for granted as we have enjoyed their use over many years without much thought. However, when a bridge is out, a water line breaks, or the power goes out, we are reminded of our dependence on such infrastructure. Nevertheless, as many studies have pointed out, we are now at a critical point in our development when huge amounts of capital must be invested in our infrastructure for repairs and replacement.
Fortunately, in our District we have begun this process in a big way. One need only to drive I-90 from the Ohio line in Conneaut to Rt. 44 in Lake County to witness the massive investment in that highway. This upgrade also includes a major bridge project at the Rt. 90/ Rt. 11 interchange as well as ramps there. When complete, this stretch of I-90 will be virtually brand new.
Likewise, the SR 531/Lake Road erosion project, though expensive and “inconvenient” in the short run, is yet another example of prudent investment into the main artery that connects the City of Ashtabula with Geneva-on-the-Lake.
Currently, there is much discussion about the bridge replacement on Route 20 between North Kingsville and Amboy. Situated over two railroad tracks belonging to Norfolk and Southern, the bridge now in use was constructed in 1940. Though a typical span is projected to last for 50 years, this bridge will celebrate its 75th year of operation in 2015. Clearly this structure is long overdue for replacement (as a quick exploration of its underbelly will reveal).
In addition to major road and bridge projects, we have also witnessed investments in our deepwater ports. In 2012 Hurricane Sandy hit the North Coast with such velocity that it clogged the Conneaut harbor with sand and debris making it exceedingly difficult to use. Spearheaded by the Conneaut Port Authority and with the coordination of the EPA and Army Corps, the harbor was dredged last summer in preparation for the 2014 boating season.
In similar fashion, the Ashtabula River was dredged in 2013 to a point just south of the railroad bridge. However, this spring dredging continued further south toward the E. 24th Street bridge. There were many parties who came together to support this last phase of dredging. Among them were: Brockway Marina, Ashtabula Recreation Unlimited, Ashtabula Civic Development Corp., City of Ashtabula, Ashtabula City Port Authority, and the Ashtabula County Port Authority.
Likewise, our Northeast Ohio Regional Airport was recently named “Airport of the Year” out of over 100 airports statewide by the Ohio Aviation Association. As noted in their press release, the “award is presented to acknowledge the airport that has made the most extraordinary accomplishments in moving their airport program forward and helping move Ohio aviation forward.” Our Airport Authority deserves much praise to earn such a distinguished award as it “moves forward” with robust plans to address future needs.
As one can readily grasp, we are all moving forward in the 99th District with respect to infrastructure repair and replacement which will, in due course, draw the attention of those leaders in business, industry, and commerce to locate and/or remain in our area. Ultimately, we are laying the foundation for the next generation of jobs in the District. And even though there have been hurdles along the way, we have kept our focus — to invest in our infrastructure. To this I remain committed and salute all of those individuals who have worked so hard to do just that.