Cincinnati may miss opportunity with new Marine Highway program

This past Wednesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a new initiative aimed at moving more cargo by water to avoid congested U.S. highways. America’s Marine Highway program will be administered by the Department’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) and, according to Federal officials, identify rivers and coastal routes that can carry cargo efficiently, bypassing congested roadways and reducing greenhouse gases.

“For too long, we’ve overlooked the economic and environmental benefits that our waterways and domestic seaports offer as a means of moving freight in this country,” said Secretary LaHood, speaking to transportation professionals at the North American Marine Highways & Logistics Conference in Baltimore, MD. “Moving goods on the water has many advantages: It reduces air pollution. It can help reduce gridlock by getting trucks off our busy surface corridors.”

In Cincinnati the Ohio River provides such opportunity allowing cargo to bypass the heavily congested Interstate-75 on its way to southern sea ports by taking the marine highway to ports located in New Orleans. When combined with shipping costs five times less on water than by freight truck, or three times less than freight rail, river port projects like the proposed Queensgate Terminals project become more and more attractive.

Renderings of the proposed Queensgate Terminals transfer facility on Cincinnati’s western riverfront provided.

The new federal regulation will allow regional transportation officials to apply to have specific transportation corridors or projects designated by the DOT as part of a marine highway. Such a designation would result in preferential treatment when it comes to future federal assistance from the DOT or MARAD.

“There are many places in our country where expanded use of marine transportation just makes sense,” said David Matsuda, Acting Administrator of the Maritime Administration. “It has so much potential to help our nation in many ways: reduced gridlock and greenhouse gases and more jobs for skilled mariners and shipbuilders.”

So far in 2010, Secretary LaHood has announced $58 million for the start-up or expansion of Marine Highway services awarded through the DOT’s TIGER grants program. Congress has also allocated an additional $7 million that will be awarded by MARAD later this year.

As the Federal looks to expand the usage of the nation’s Maritime Highways, Cincinnati is struggling to work out an arrangement for the development of the Queensgate Terminals project that would create a 31-acre, $26 million high-tech transfer facility along Cincinnati’s riverfront immediately west of the Central Business District.

Diagrams of the proposed Queensgate Terminals transfer facility on Cincinnati’s western riverfront provided.

The project has been held up by a slew of public resistance from west side residents, and a litany of legal troubles surrounding the sale of the land. A recent settlement forced the City of Cincinnati to deposit $1.68 million into a court escrow account for the losses incurred by the developer since September 2005 after the City had agreed to sell the property, then retracted the sale agreement.

The legal and political battles have caused so much trouble in Cincinnati that the whole project may in fact be in jeopardy. During this time the State of Ohio has pledged $9.5 million towards the proposed South Point barge terminal further upriver in Lawrence County – a move that could place potential funds for a Cincinnati barge terminal in limbo.

In an economy moving cargo shipment off of the roads, and onto trains and barges, Cincinnati may miss capitalizing on its central and prominent location along rail and water corridors, and may continue to overlook the environmental and economic benefits the Ohio River provides.

  • 5chw4r7z

    Seems like Cincinnati should be perfectly positioned for this with all the rail in the Mill Creek valley.

  • Matt Hunter Ross

    Wow… those renderings make that area of town look beautiful.

    Especially considering the locale, as 5chw4r7z said, it would be surprising if Cincinnati let this slip through its fingers.

  • Nate

    We need to stop dragging our feet on this one and get Queen City Terminals running. Claims that this will hurt views from Price Hill have always seemed unfounded to me. That and the worry that this would push the bulk shippers out have stalled this too long.
    This logical and sound move by LaHood and the Administration should make many on council and in the region take a needed second look at river maximization… whether it is Queensgate Terminals or something more ambitious.

  • The Provost of Cincinnati, Editor-at-Large

    The canalization of the Ohio River in the late 1920's severely upset the finances of area railroads since so much coal shipping thereafter switched to barges. This shift increased overall efficiency so was in the national interest, however since the 1950's both barge and rail have been intentionally marginalized by the trucking lobby. It's the very inefficiency of trucking that makes them a huge political bloc. If you ever listen to the Truckin' Bozo on 700 WLW, they are defiant in propagating the myth that barge and rail have no business competing with trucks for freight.

  • Matt Ross

    Whatever happened with this?

    (I know I’m bumping a 2-year-old thread.)

    • I’m not sure off the top of my head, but I think the legal battles have ended, yet the project seems to be stalled nevertheless.