LIMA — There was a time when most things were moved across this country either by boat or train. If Leonard Brown had his way, that time would return.
Brown, deputy director of Ohio Department of Transportation District 1, outlined the state of transportation for the Lima Allen County Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals group on Thursday. And for Ohio, much of the emphasis has been moved from the freeways to the railway and rivers.
“We have to spend some money on our ports. We have to spend some money on our railroads. That is really where we should be shipping things,” Brown said.
As the state’s interstates and city centers are become increasingly jammed with trucks, more companies are looking to the rivers and rails as a way to transport product cheaply and efficiently. Right now, the state is making major investments in the port at Toledo and has $400 million to upgrade the railroad system. Those are investments that are going to help companies and farmers grow and save money.
“We are basically feeding the world and there’s no more efficient way to carry our beans and our corn than by train and water,” Brown said.
Commerce may be the driving force behind transportation investment in the state, but the thing most people want to know is when we will be getting an efficient passenger rail network. The state received $1.7 million in stimulus money for a network between Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, and there is a possibility Lima could be included in a Dayton to Toledo route, Brown said.
One problem any passenger system faces is public perception that a train system that can’t make money without government help is a failure. If that’s the case, Brown said, every system in the world is a failure.
“No rail system is not subsidized. If you go to Japan, if you go to Puerto Rico, wherever you go, the rail is subsidized. Our highways are subsidized too, we just don’t talk about that,” Brown said.
Closer to home, ODOT is working on a variety of road projects Brown said he hopes will be completed in coming years. An upgrade to state Route 309 near the Lima Mall is on hold while they negotiate with mall owner Simon Properties on the right-of-way. The Interstate 75 corridor improvements are likely to begin in the next two years. And ODOT is looking for funding help to complete an upgrade at the intersection of state Routes 309 and 117 — a personal favorite of Browns.
“I drive that every day and I consider that a mess,” Brown said. “You’ve got four hotels, two townships, one county and one confused state employee. That’s me.”