Thursday, June 1, 2017
A new airport for SW Ohio: far-fetched or far-sighted?
By Jessie Balmert
The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer
DHL's package handling mega-hub at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport is just one of three the company has in the world. The hub employs more than 2,400 people and handles about 160,000 pieces of mail and packages a day.
COLUMBUS - In the middle of a budget crunch, a handful of GOP lawmakers say it's time to start talking about building two international airports, including one in Southwest Ohio, that would require a $10 billion federal and business investment.
Some might call it far-fetched. Rep. Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason, calls it the "entrepreneurial spirit."
Zeltwanger joined Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, to propose constructing an airport in Southwest Ohio off Interstate 71 and U.S. 35 near Jeffersonsville and Washington Court House. Also envisioned: another airport north of Ravenna in northeast Ohio.
Their bill would create a seven-member panel to hire an executive director and get the 10-plus year project started. The proposal would require little state money beyond the executive director's salary.
They want to attract airlines to invest in airports that serve Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus or Cleveland and Youngstown. The goal is to attract direct international flights to Ohio. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International airport CVG is the only airport in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana that has a daily nonstop flight outside North America – its flight to Paris.
Businesses are leaving Ohio because of its inadequate air transportation, Butler said Wednesday. He cited when Toyota left Northern Kentucky for Plano, Texas.
But the project would cost between $10 billion and $15 billion. It would require significant investment from an airline willing to move hubs to Ohio and the federal government to foot part of the bill. It's not clear if an airline would take that risk. Butler says President Donald Trump's talk about investing in infrastructure is encouraging.
"I certainly hope this would be right up the president’s alley in terms of a big idea, something that could really dramatically change the infrastructure and the economy of Ohio,” Butler said.
And if the gamble pays off, Ohio would have two of the largest hubs in the country by population.
Butler insists this wouldn't mean airports in Northern Kentucky, Dayton and Columbus would close. They would be buoyed by the business at the hubs. He even proposed a rail system to transport people from the cities to the airport hubs.
Will Ohioans drive to these hubs? Gov. John Kasich previously floated the idea of building a commercial airport in Wilmington in his talks with business leaders, but it didn't go far.
"I've talked to people in Cincinnati about having an airport in Wilmington. They don't want to drive to Wilmington," Kasich told The Enquirer in February.
But Zeltwanger said, on a smaller scale, no one thought Kings Island was an ideal location for a theme park. He's willing to take a little bit of a risk.
"It's probably not advised from a political standpoint sometimes, but I think that's what it takes," Zeltwanger said.