Will Expanded Clout For Port Authority Strengthen Its Economic Development Capabilities?

Early this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the entire 226-mile stretch of the Ohio River between Huntington, WV and Louisville, KY as the “Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky,” greatly expanding it from its previous 26 miles. This expansion mirrors other large-scale capacity and access expansions across America’s inland ports.

In Duluth, MN work began in May on a project to enhance rail connections and the intermodal abilities of the port. The Duluth Seaway Authority, the western edge of the St. Lawrence Seaway, states that it is the largest project they have undertaken since their creation in the 1950s.

Further south, America’s Central Port, the port authority for the St. Louis region, began a new $50 million project to provide rail access to six Class I carriers and increase intermodal capabilities. And ports along the Great Lakes are seeing increased shipments of steel, grain, and salt, and are also upgrading rail infrastructure to keep up with demand.

The growth of these ports coincides with several different events. As the nation continues to recover economically from the Great Recession, traffic is increasing along most of America’s transportation corridors; and rail-river/lake intermodal traffic is becoming increasingly popular.

This trend is evidenced in the US Department of Transportation’s recent designation of the Mississippi River as a “container-on-vessel route,” which will provide a vast corridor for container shipping by barge along the entire Mississippi River system. Founded in 1999 to stimulate economic development in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, the Mid-America Port Commission plans to create even more port authorities in the near future along the Mississippi River.

The congestion in Chicago’s rail yards and limited real estate along Lake Michigan is also contributing to growth in other Midwestern ports. Also looming in the background of these expansion decisions is the soon-to-be-opened Panama Canal expansion, which is expected to increase traffic within all of America’s ports and transportation corridors.

This recent expansion of Cincinnati’s port authority makes it the second largest inland port in the United States, and is expected to enable the region to take better advantage of these trends and help serve as a catalyst for economic development.

The problem for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, however, is a continued lack of dedicated funding stream. This limits the organization’s ability to pursue economic development projects that have come to define its core mission.

REDI CEO Johnna Reeder spoke to this at an August meeting for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, for which she serves as a board member. At that time Reeder said that the region must do a better job at attracting manufacturing jobs and wants the Port Authority to play a larger role in doing just that.

A proposal to lease the bulk of Cincinnati’s parking assets was approved in June 2013 and would have provided such a revenue stream for the Port Authority. This deal, however, was later cancelled upon the arrival of newly elected Mayor John Cranley (D) and affirmed by a majority of City Council in December 2013.

  • Charlie Hinkley

    Can you elaborate on the funding streams for other port authorities? Where does the NY/NJ PATH get its money from? or St Louis’? Just wondering what sort of examples are out there.

    • Jake Fessler

      The Port Authority of NY/NJ is a different story because of how big it is. They collect revenues from several toll bridges and tunnels plus fees from the Port of Newark, which happens to be one of the busiest in the United States. They’re also a major property owner in the region so they collect money from rents.
      Many port authorities draw funds in similar ways, albeit on a much, much smaller scale.

    • The Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati should be put in charge of all of the Ohio River bridges in its jurisdiction as well as the airports. They could then wisely manage these assets. Toll revenue from bridges and profits from airports could be used to fund maintenance and possibly expansions of these assets.

    • charles ross

      I believe that PA of NY/NJ was created by an act of Congress. The World Trade Towers were theirs. They are almost their own little state in a way. They are concerned with all modes of transit in the region. Our local one is just about the river as far as I know.

  • matimal

    Cranely is Cincinnati’s bridge keeper. He will not allow anything to pass him unless he gets his cut. Removing him from office would be the single greatest act we could achieve in supporting growth in Cincinnati.

  • Robert Yoder

    It’s been my understanding the “Ports of Cincinnati” is mainly a marketing designation for the ports along this stretch of the Ohio River. Can the Cincinnati Port Authority and the Northern Kentucky Port Authority do economic development – yes. But, only in their designated area. Not the entire area in the Ports of Cincinnati. There are multiple port authorities this area, and it does not include the any in Indiana.

    • charles ross

      Why not Indiana? Hey OKI, why not help get it together with these IN port peeps.

    • Robert Yoder

      Indiana has a state port authority, and as part of the way it’s set up it doesn’t allow them to join the consortium of port authorities from different states.

  • Matt Jacob


    I hadn’t heard that the Mississippi River had actually gotten the designation change. Good to hear and hopefully the Ohio gets a similar change. The problem with CoB is that most of the bridges on these inland rivers are so low that they limit the height that vessels can stack the containers on each barge. I believe it’s the Huey Long bridge in LA that has limited the size of vessels that can get up the Mississippi (of course politics made this happen) and hopefully this designation change will eventually mean the bridges get raised so that these ships can get further inland. We’ll never see a post-Panimax in Cincinnati, but the more containers these barges can stack the more Cincinnati stands to benefit with its manufacturing base here.

    On a side note, most people don’t realize that Queensgate has built up quite the container load since the Great Recession. As the manufacturing base has recovered, you see yards of waiting containers that didn’t used to be there and new cranes to load/unload rail cars. This is nothing compared to major ports, but the amount of land available around the railyard has been an advantage to our city.