By Joe Baur
Last call, Cleveland fliers.
United’s departure seems to have come as a surprise based on the influx of local outrage. I’ll admit I took part in the populist rage. But we really should have seen it coming. And the fact that we are in no better position to support regional travel needs than we were since the Continental-United merger was announced proves yet again how our public officials have failed us.
Flying is expensive and Greater Cleveland has been shrinking for decades. The demand simply was not there to fill the flights necessary for United to justify maintaining a hub in Cleveland. United made a business decision that we cannot fault them for making, no matter how painful the job losses are.
Really the outrage should be directed toward state leaders who have time and time again short-changed our region of desperately needed regional rail infrastructure. Simply put, nobody should be flying from Cleveland to Cincinnati or Dayton, which are among the flights being cut. Really anything within a six-hour drive is not sustainable for an airline in Cleveland. Yet our governor and governor-hopeful proved how clueless they are in regards to our state’s transportation needs with their near-identical statements regarding the United departure.
Governor Kasich said he would push for the decision to be reversed, adding that the state will continue to leverage progress made at the airport to attract new carriers. County Executive FitzGerald said he would “continue to focus on the future and work with the private sector and other government entities to increase air service to our area.”
More carriers are not the long-term answer for Cleveland’s transportation needs. If Governor Kasich were really concerned about the future of Cleveland connectivity, he would have leveraged the $400 million in federal-aid given to Ohio to develop regional rail in this state rather than simply giving it away to make a lame political point that will end up costing Ohio more in the long run. He would employ a director of the Ohio Department of Transportation that isn’t hostile to non-highway transportation.
If FitzGerald were so concerned, he would come out and put forth some kind of transportation plan for the state. Unless I’m mistaken, FitzGerald has been completely silent on his vision of transportation in Cleveland both as County Executive and now as a gubernatorial nominee. Does he support connecting Ohio’s cities with rail? Working with Amtrak to restore daytime service to Cleveland?
Or is he in line with Kasich’s (outdated) thinking that $331 million for a 3.5-mile highway extension is the way of the future? I have no idea, because FitzGerald is not discussing these issues. He’s off asking Kasich to sign a pledge to commit to serving a full-term if (when) he wins reelection without recognizing the irony.
Unfortunately it seems unlikely anyone with a hint of transportation foresight will find his or her way into the Ohio governor’s mansion for the foreseeable future. Not to mention history has taught us that Cleveland cannot rely on the state to fulfill our transportation needs.
Still, we as a community need to use this opportunity to rally behind regional rail. The demand is there and the economic benefits are clear-cut. More air carriers or highway lanes will not attract new labor or businesses to Cleveland. Miles driven are down nationally and the highway trust fund is already drowning in red ink.
Simply put, it’s time to get on board with regional rail in Cleveland and across Buckeye country.
Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at http://JoeBaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe.