Congratulations, chairman Larry Maggi and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and all regional participants for preparing the “Smart Moves for a Changing Region” transportation and development plan.
This plan is critical to our region. The linking of our key transportation infrastructure – our highways, railroads and waterways – will determine how well we respond to the global opportunity that is on the horizon. The plan is thoughtful, succinct and built upon great vision. And when I read the plan, I see focus and certainty.
Yes, we must build resilient communities with sustainable economies if we are to increase our competitive position in the global economy. An integrated transportation system is the foundation on which we will build these communities.
We were reminded of the meaning of sacrifice and heroism last week, as we remembered the events of June 6, 1944. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who gave the go-ahead for the D-Day invasion, said of that day: “This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success.”
Think about what was hanging in the balance that day – the fate of the free world. But the man ultimately responsible for the outcome spoke with focus and certainty. No maybes.
Focus and certainty is how we must approach the implementation of this visionary plan the SPC has presented. It has been said that if humans did all of the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves. We need to look no further than the man or woman next to us.
My team has been working closely with several clients and our regional partners to develop a long-term economic development strategy. The emphasis is on expanding our plastics and advanced manufacturing sector to take advantage of the Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas play.
In the super-competitive global oil and gas market, we have critical infrastructure gaps that must be closed. The SPC plan takes a holistic approach at closing them. We must target key infrastructure projects that will improve our standing and increase opportunities, including attracting additional petrochemical investment to the region.
We know Shell is building an ethane cracker complex in Beaver County, and a second cracker is near approval in Belmont County, Ohio. There are rumors that as many as four more of these facilities could come to our region. An Appalachian storage hub could be located in the region, a $10 billion effort. Investment in natural gas liquids assets could make our region a magnet that could attract investment in downstream manufacturing.
We must invest in our waterway infrastructure, particularly the Monongahela River locks and dams. This critical piece of transportation infrastructure is often overlooked. For generations, our river has provided commercial, industrial and recreational opportunities otherwise not attainable. It also is a critical environmental resource, vital to the health and safety of Southwest Pennsylvanians.
Investment also is needed in broadband connectivity. We must work with public and private partners to expand internet access to areas like Greene County, where development opportunities are plentiful. Broadband access and mobile telephone service are critical to the regional transportation infrastructure puzzle that we cannot afford to miss.
These upgrades are expensive, but necessary for the region to be competitive.
Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.
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