State Boundaries and the Northeast (Hoisted from Comments)

Aaron Renn’s repost on US states mattering more than some people imagine made me think about the difference in attitudes toward state lines in different US regions. Aaron’s examples of state lines mattering come from the Midwest, specifically Indianapolis and Columbus. My usual examples of state lines not mattering come from the Northeast. And those two regions treat states very differently.

Imagine a thought experiment in which Congress allows states to redraw their own boundaries – to split, merge, or change borders on their own accord. Let’s ignore the Senate – perhaps it still uses the old boundaries. Let’s also assume that this is not a completely de novo redrawing, akin to the creation of the French departments, in which states are drawn to be of specific size or population.

In such a case, in most of the US, there would be small changes only. Indiana would lose the suburbs of Chicago, Cincinnati, and Louisville, but otherwise remain intact. Virginia would lose the DC suburbs and gain the North Carolina suburbs of Hampton Roads. Tennessee would gain the Memphis suburbs, and maybe possibly lose Chattanooga. Oregon and Washington would merge. California, Texas, and Florida could either survive more or less intact or split based on metro area spheres of influence. I do not know Florida well enough, but my understanding is that Texas and California have strong enough state identity that in a referendum, their major regions would vote against a split. Ohio might have cleaved if it had had only Cleveland and Cincinnati, but I believe the presence of Columbus would make it survive more or less intact. The only Midwestern state that would be completely dismembered is Missouri, which has no equivalent of Columbus between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The opposite is true of the Northeast. From talking to people from both Upstate and Downstate New York, I believe a referendum would result in both sides voting for a split. New Jersey exists as a coherent entity only in jokes about the state made by people from other states. Pennsylvania has at least three regions that do not identify with one another. But at the same time, a coherent Northeast region exists: there are strong migration ties, not only among the four main coastal metro areas but also to and from Pittsburgh and the Upstate metro areas, which have stronger migration ties to New York and Philadelphia than to Cleveland and Chicago. Along the coast, there is also suburb-sharing, which has led to the formation of just four combined statistical areas; there’s even a chain of suburb sharing connecting New York, Allentown (now in the New York CSA), and Philadelphia, and there may soon be direct sharing between New York and Philadelphia.

Unlike in the Midwest or Texas or California, the Northeast does not have the same university-enforced state boundaries, which are probably a major reason why Columbus specifically has migration ties with the entire state but not much with areas just outside the state. In much of the Northeast, a huge number of students go to private universities. In Massachusetts as far as I can tell there are more students at private universities than at public four-year colleges. New York has a very large public university system, but the SUNY/CUNY distinction reinforces the state’s internal divisions rather than erasing them the way Ohio State does.

In terms of a national rail plan, the Northeast practically is a single state (as is the Pacific Northwest, but that’s just two states), from Portland to Quantico. In California, Texas, and Florida, and even Ohio and South Carolina, there are potentially strong in-state intercity rail routes. New York and Pennsylvania have those as well, but both have even stronger routes that cross many states. The Midwest is full of routes that cross states, but usually those connect one or two states to Chicago; the main exception, Chicago-Detroit via Toledo, is indeed not pursued, in favor of the inferior I-94 route that mainly serves Michigan.

Regional rail is similar. It is possible to come up with a plan that’s at least theoretically coherent for regional rail in most parts of the US, to be run by a state agency (or in borderline cases a bi-state agency), or by a local agency with powers delegated by the state. In the Northeast, it’s completely impossible. It’s not even possible to cleanly cleave the region into separate states for the four primary coastal metro areas, because commuter rail services on the Northeast Corridor need to share track with intercity trains at least part of the way, and building infrastructure to avoid such track-sharing is needlessly expensive.

I do not know of a transport association that crosses so many boundaries of subnational entities in Europe. French services are run by the regions; they sometimes cross boundaries, but only in the Midwestern sense of a region bordering Ile-de-France running some of its regional trains to Paris. In Germany, Berlin and Brandenburg have the same transport association, and for all intents and purposes are a single state when it comes to rail network planning. Swiss services cross cantonal borders, but at least the Zurich regional rail network is again French or Midwestern, in that there’s a core of services funded by the ZVV, and services in bordering cantons that run through. In the Northeast, there are good reasons to have commuter services run through from Philadelphia to New York along the Northeast Corridor and maybe also the West Trenton Line; even metro area boundaries are not hard, let alone state boundaries.

Stepping back from the thought experiment, let’s think of how to organize transportation planning in the US. In the Midwest and the South, states are coherent entities. In the West, the areas where states really do not mean much are deep in the Interior West, where there’s no point in building additional ground transportation infrastructure in the first place. But in the Northeast, there may have to be a special exemption treating all of it, including Northern Virginia, as a single state for planning purposes. It can’t be run as tightly as a single state because of its size and its natural division into several metro areas, but some joint service between its various divisions is unavoidable.

More in general, the Ohio example showcases how coherent state identities can be manufactured by the presence of state institutions. On maps that center Cleveland and Cincinnati, such as maps of which baseball and football teams people support, Ohio looks completely dismembered. And yet, the presence of Columbus and Ohio State changes everything when it comes to economic ties such as migration: suddenly, the otherwise-artificial state border means something in terms of social services.

This is not something Northeastern states can really do, nor should they. Pennsylvania has Penn State at State College, but it’s in a small, faraway town, and people who can instead go to Penn or Carnegie Mellon will. New York can expand CUNY and SUNY, but there are too many campuses to provide the same social function of Ohio State. Of course states should expand public higher education, in terms of both opening new campuses where needed and subsidizing tuition, but there’s no room to create a new Columbus; such expansion would provide a necessary service to state residents, but not change economic geography the way it did in Ohio.


  1. Max Wyss

    It could b that Missouri would not be completely dismembered, as Kansas City, MO is ecnomically more important than Kansas City, KS. So, it would be more logical to merge Kansas City, KS. In fact, that probably would happen, because the state border goes through the urban area (and there is even a State Border street, where the state border is in the middle of the street.

    About the ZVV: the ZVV area is (with a few exceptions) limited to the Canton of Zürich, but some S-Bahn lines run through to centers in the neighboring cantons (such as Baden-Brugg or Aarau in the canton of Aargau). Originally, the neighboring cantons did not have their Verkehrsverbund, and for cross border connection, the national fares applied. Nowadays, the neighboring cantons do have a Verkehrsverbund, and — at least for passes — zones can be joined. But that was a question of political will and cooperation.

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, Missouri could be enlarged at both ends to include the suburbs of St. Louis and Kansas City, but for some reason (and I’m not thaaat familiar with the state, to be honest) I feel the St. Louis and Kansas City regions would split.

      As for the ZVV, yes… the main thing I’m concerned about, for New York-Philadelphia, is that it’s not quite the same relationship that exists between Zurich and cantons that are very much in the Zurich region, like Zug – the New York-Philadelphia relationship feels more equal than that, even if New York is a lot bigger. And right now, neither New York nor Philly has a commuter line to Allentown, but there are advocates for both, and that makes it even harder to have separate fare unions.

      • Max Wyss

        The greater New York – Philadelphia area is a bit more complicated, because a Verkehrsverbund would get many zones (in order to keep local transit sufficiently supported). But nevertheless, I could imagine a single area. And in such a situation, Allentown would not cause problems (at least for the fare system).

        What I could also imagine were center-to-center passes, allowing the use of some zones in one center, and the other center as well, but limiting to specific connections between the centers. Ah, yeah, and in the case of New York – Philadelphia, Amtrak would have to be included as well… Feasible, but for that a lot of political will would be necessary (which in the current situation is totally missing)…

        I have a business partner in Kansas City, and I may ask him for a bit more local input.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Seeing that more people live in New York City itself than live in Switzerland it’s gonna be a bit more complex in New York…

          • Max Wyss

            The number of people does not really matter concerning fare systems etc.

            I somehow have in mind that the area of New York City is comparable to the Canton of Zürich.

            For a general New York zone fare system, I could imagine that each Borough would be its own zone (and maybe count Manhattan as double because of the considerably better service than the other ones; similar to the city of Zürich and Winterthur zones in the ZVV).

            However, the question would be how to “sell” a zone fare system to the New Yorkers…

          • Adirondacker12800

            There’s more people in New York City than all of Switzerland and they all live in one zone with one fare medium. It didn’t used to be one zone but they decided it would be so it is.

          • Henry

            @Max: One fare zone would actually go against the mission of New York’s transit system, which was to encourage migration to the outer boroughs. As a result most of the city’s working and middle class workers live outside the core. Any sort of zone pricing would disproportionately hurt those in the outer boroughs, many who either have to commute between the outer boroughs or to Manhattan. (In particular, a Manhattan split into two zones would force riders from the Bronx to pay at least a three-zone fare, which would be regressive.)

            On top of that, the core of the system is already congested; zone fares would encourage lots of short trips within Manhattan, burdening an already crowded system.

          • Alon Levy

            It depends on what kind of zone system. As I said on Second Avenue Sagas, in Paris and Berlin the zone system is such that zone 1 is the inner city and zone 2 is the rest of the city, and tickets are for at least two zones. You pay the same to travel within zone 1, within zone 2, or between zones 1 and 2. This means it costs more for people in the suburbs to travel to Manhattan and to travel short of Manhattan, but the entire city is one zone.

            Zurich, to my understanding, uses a different system, in which the zones are never concentric.

          • Adirondacker12800

            I’m missing something. If it’s all a same fare – two zones – why bother to have zones?

          • Adirondacker12800

            That’s what happens now. Within Manhattan is one swipe of your Metrocard. Within Queens one swipe of your Metrocard. Queens to Manhattan one swipe of your Metrocard. Within Nassau … whatever NICE buses take, I don’t know and don’t particularly care. Nassau to Manhattan the LIRR fare from wherever you are to Manhattan. Over in New Jersey the zones are much more granular. If you want to travel within Newark it’s one zone/base fare, more or less, If you want to go the towns bordering Newark from Newark it’s two zones. If you travel within the second zone it’s the base fare, if you want to go to the third zone farther out it’s two zones. Or to Newark. If you want to go from Newark to the places in the third zone it’s three zones. If you have a monthly train ticket good for 8 zones you flash your train pass to use the bus. If you are in Paterson and want to go within the first zone it’s base plus one zone. To the towns bordering Paterson, more or less, two zones. If you want to go from Paterson or Newark three because you leave the one zone for all of Newark, cross the suburbs of Newark and Paterson for a second zone and Paterson is three zones. For what it’s worth those woefully neglected people in Southern New Jersey pay lower fares for second and additonal zones. It’s just awful the way any fare anywhere on the River Line is one zone. An equivalent ride in Northern New Jersey on a bus would be multiple zones or a multizone train fare.

          • threestationsquare / Anon256

            NICE and Westchester Bee-Line actually take Metrocards so a standard unlimited-ride Metrocard covers a single zone stretching from Westchester to Nassau.

            Anyway, I think Alon is proposing this zone system as part of fare integration between the subway and Metro North/LIRR. It should be cheap to take the LIRR from Queens to Manhattan, and cheap to take it from Nassau to Queens, saving the higher (but still lower than today) fares for people who take it from Nassau (or Suffolk) to Manhattan.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The LIRR ( or Metro North or NJTransit trains or SEPTA or Metra or,,, ) are a premium service. Why shouldn’t they get a premium fare?

          • threestationsquare / Anon256

            They shouldn’t be a premium service, any more than the RER or the German S-Bahns or the various Oyster-accepting suburban railways in London. To keep them as a premium service is a waste of infrastructure capacity.

          • Adirondacker12800

            So the ten billion or so they are going to spend on East Side Access, they coulda just lowered fares and squeezed even more people into Penn Station? And silly silly New Jersey wanting to fritter away another ten billion or Amtrak wanting to spend more to do less, they should just make the fare between Newark and New York as low as the PATH fare and just have people climb onto each other’s shoulders for the ride?

      • Jeff Pinkerton

        Great post and discussion. I’ll chime in on my hometown Kansas City. We are close to a 60/40 split in population right now (60% being in Missouri) but we are moving towards 50/50 with the fastest growing suburbs being in Johnson County KS. We do function as one economy but I’d definitely say the State Line is a net negative for the region. It just makes it that much more difficult to get everyone on board on regional issues. Both states fight for new economic development and incentivize companies to move across the border, which, yes in most instances is literally across a street.
        Regarding Missouri, I agree with the Missouri split idea. KC and St. Louis share a state but they really don’t have much else in common. St. Louis has much more of its population in Missouri and therefore dominates state politics. KC often complains that they don’t have as strong a voice in Jefferson City. In this scenario they’d likely go their separate ways.

        • Max Wyss

          Would, in your opinion, a consolidated Kansas City have more influence in Kansas?

          • Adirondacker12800

            Kansas wouldn’t go for it. In nice round numbers 40 percent of the people in Kansas live in metro Kansas City, If they annexed the Missouri suburbs 60 percent of the people in the state would live in metro Kansas City. It would be much harder to elect screeching Tea Partiers to state or federal offices.

          • BruceMcF

            So easier to split into East Missouri and West Missouri and West Missouri grab the Kansas part of Kansas City … leaving the rest of Kansas to go pure Oklahoma.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Eastern Colorado, Western Kansas and the panhandles could form a new state and argue about whether to call it West Alabama or North Mississippi. When they aren’t arguing about that they could sit around and whine that the awful people who send them all that money from the Federal government aren’t giving them enough. I lean towards West Alabama. That way western Nebraska, western South Dakota and western North Dakota would be able to use North Mississippi.

  2. AlexB

    If you presume that people will actually back political unification of economic regions over tribal xenophobia, the result is a great thought experiment. The lack of enthusiasm of outlying suburbs to join the larger city is legendary and terribly problematic for many cities in the US. The political map of Los Angeles is pointless & absurd and the racial and economic segregation of Detroit aligning almost perfectly with the city’s borders is a revolting failure of our society. The boundaries as they are today are not just inefficient for local economies and transit networks, but even for the creation of unified environmental rules. Rivers are fed by their watersheds and create economies around ports, but most rivers are the boundary, not the unifier. As I started taking into account all the things that could unify an area, I ended up with a map of larger and larger units, more like mega-regions or European countries than states. Coordination of regional rail and high speed rail makes sense, in the way the high speed rail/commuter rail “blended system” in California developed more quickly and decisively than any plan in the Northeast ever could. Even though Kansas City and St Louis don’t share commuters, they are both within the orbit of Chicago and share the Missouri River, for example. Anyway, this was the new North American map I came up with, where the borders pass through as few developed areas as possible to allow for maximum levels of local coordination. It’s not directly applicable to all of your points, but I hope it’s interesting:,-78.574219&spn=69.98101,120.234375

    • Adirondacker12800

      It’s more or less the way the Census or Federal Reserve split things up.

    • stevestofka

      I always find these kinds of exercises fascinating. But to me your project ignores some of the subtler cultural divisions. For example, I find it hard to imagine that functioning-theocracy Utah would be in the same political division as liberal Colorado. And while it is a border region, greater Appalachia (this includes the Tennessee Valley and Ozark and Ouachita regions) is also its own discrete culture, one that happens to be dominant in four states, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. The cultural sphere also extends through much of the Ohio Valley, through central Pennsylvania and on into upstate New York, and into Oklahoma and Missouri.

      • lop

        Travelling around going from Colorado to Utah felt pretty seamless to me, and there did seem to be a noticeable Mormon influence outside Utah in Colorado, and in parts of Nevada. I noticed a larger break leaving the Denver plateau but staying in Colorado.

  3. knott

    Japan easily integrates regional train service, across both different companies and administrative regions. It is all about the political culture I think.

  4. aw

    “Oregon and Washington would merge.”

    Perhaps the end result would still be two states, one to the east of the Cascade divide and one to the west. The western half might go on to conquer part of northern California and southwest B.C. Call it Cascadia.

  5. Adirondacker12800

    …the rough approximation of what should be a state a is television market. Which vaguely overlaps with what teams a region roots for. New England only has the Boston teams. Does that mean New England should become one state?

    There are problems with using TV markets

    ,,, and if you live in South Brunswick you can watch NY TV or Philadelphia TV.

    If Brooklyn Queens and Manhattan became one state they would be somewhere around the 20th most populous. So would North New Jersey. Westchester, Fairfield and New Haven would have roughly as many people as Utah, Kansas or Nevada. It’s a good thing that the 50 million or 60 million people along the Northeast corridor have 16 Senators. Or 24 if you count all of New England and Virginia. Well 22 because New Hampshire thinks trains turn people into Communists living in high rise apartment buildings who commute to work on subways. Though I’ve never asked what Senator Shaheen thinks about trains. You have to consider scale. The Queens Blvd subway is an appropriate solution for Queens Blvd. but it’s not for Peoria. And buses are a good solution in Peoria but not that great, except for very local travel, on Queens Blvd.

    I do not know Florida well enough

    The panhandle is Alabama with more beaches. The people in Jacksonville think the people in the Panhandle are a bunch of rednecks and the people in the southern part of the state are from Mars. Or Brooklyn. I’m not sure which they think is worse. The people in the southern parts of the state try not to think about the people in the northern part of the state, who wish they lived in Alabama. Circa 1850.

    From talking to people from both Upstate and Downstate New York, I believe a referendum would result in both sides voting for a split.

    New York State collects 80% of it’s taxes downstate. It would become very unpopular upstate once that sinks in. Just like the Rochesterians love spending tax money from New York City, I suspect the people in Eureka love spending tax money from San Francisco and the people in Muncie love spending the money from the suburbs along the Shore Line and… The yokels moan endlessly about how those awful city people are dragging them kicking and screaming into the 20th Century but just love spending the tax money from those 21st Century places. Upstate is never going to secede. Or Downstate Illinois. Or rural California. Their taxes would skyrocket.

    New Jersey exists as a coherent entity only in jokes about the state made by people from other states.

    It’s a peninsula. A rather tidy way to divide things up isn’t it? Except for the parts that you would think that are in New Jersey but are in Delaware and the parts that you would think are in New York but are in New Jersey. It’s the eleventh most populous state. It’s the 11th fastest growing too. They are doing something right.

    there may soon be direct sharing between New York and Philadelphia.

    52 percent of the people using NJTransit’s Trenton and Hamilton train stations are Pennsylvanians going to Manhattan. Philadelphia better watch out, Bucks and Montgomery may become New York suburbs.

    is indeed not pursued, in favor of the inferior I-94 route that mainly serves Michigan.

    Michigan owns most of it which eliminates problems with freight companies whining about those gosh darn passenger trains. That has it’s charms. There would be difficulties in convincing the Michigan legislature to spend money in Ohio. If I remember correctly they were willing to spend money in Indiana and Indiana said “No”.

    It has it’s charms for Chicago-Toronto too. Google says the road mileage is 500miles/800km .. ish depending on the route. Via Toledo is longest.

    I do not know of a transport association that crosses so many boundaries of subnational entities in Europe.

    There are no metro areas in Europe as big as New York’s. Not many as big as Philadelphia’s or Washington’s. Not that many more as big as Boston. The Northeast Corridor is more like the Tokkaido. Tokyo doesn’t have everything mashed into one omniscient operator. Why should New York? Or Philadelphia? Do the people of New Jersey really want service from SEPTIC? …or the MTA? The suburban counties are finding it better to operate the buses on the county level… itty bitty obscure PATH is the country’s 7th busiest rapid transit system. It’s the second busiest based on riders per mile.


    Yes a metro area that would be the fifth biggest if it was along the Northeast Corridor is so very much like the ones that are along it. In a country that would be the third largest metro area if was along the Northeast Corridor. … the almost six million people in Brooklyn and Queens have one unified operator like the less than four million people in metro Zurich have…

    there may have to be a special exemption treating all of it, including Northern Virginia, as a single state for planning purposes.

    There is one, Amtrak. It’s a better thing that Amtrak owns the ROW. Maybe not a good thing but better than the commuter agencies owning it. If it wasn’t for the commuter agencies pumping money into the NEC it would be like Chicago-St Louis. Four and half hours to get from NY to DC would interesting to foamers. Everybody else would be on a bus or plane.

    . Pennsylvania has Penn State at State College, but it’s in a small, faraway town, and people who can instead go to Penn or Carnegie Mellon will. New York can expand CUNY and SUNY, but there are too many campuses to provide the same social function of Ohio State.

    75 percent of the population doesn’t go to college. People who live on campus don’t do a lot of commuting that can’t be done by walking or college run shuttle buses. Why is the state college system pertinent? …. psst. People from Pennsylvania can go to SUNY and people from New Jersey can go to UConn and people from Massachusetts can go to UMaryland and people from Maryland can go to UC Davis… and people from Wyoming who are college material get the hell out.

    …On the other hand 6 of the 8 Ivies have a station on the NEC nearby. One of the many reasons why the one sixth of the population along the NEC generates one quarter of the GDP. And since they are so busy making all that money very likely more than a quarter of the Federal Government’s revenue.

    • Alon Levy

      Zurich is, to me, one of several examples of transport associations. The biggest isn’t even the ZVV, but STIF; Ile-de-France would be the third biggest metro area in the US, and its transit mode share is so high the overall ridership isn’t far behind Greater New York’s. But then there is no Philadelphia in France – Lyon and Lille are too small and too far, and the surrounding regions are basically trying to be Paris exurbs. Philadelphia may not be Silicon Valley, but it’s not Burgundy or Picardie either.

      Re the college thing, way less than 75% of the population doesn’t go to college. I’m not sure, it’s possible the median American goes to college nowadays, but doesn’t graduate. Even the 30% or so who finish are enough to make a big difference in migration ties, especially since they tend to be more geographically mobile than unskilled workers. And that makes state boundaries important, since out-of-state tuition is unaffordable and in-state tuition usually is, sort of. In the Northeast it’s a smaller deal because private universities don’t offer financial aid based on what state you’re from.

      And yes, Amtrak on the NEC is a unifying force, but the problem is that it treats the commuter railroads as competitors or as an annoyance, rather than as partners. Hence, the separation into different fiefs at Penn Station. If I’m not mistaken, it’s Amtrak that forbids SEPTA and NJ Transit from running through from the Trenton Line to the NEC Line – it competes with the Regionals too much for its taste. Conversely, Metro-North has the obnoxious speed limits, even though the Regionals and Acelas can do 5″ without tilting, even though there isn’t enough traffic north of Stamford to cause congestion. And the less said about the MBTA’s creative ideas about rolling stock, the better.

      • Adirondacker12800

        SEPTA runs short trains NJTransit runs long trains, It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to run almost empty long trains through Suburban. If SEPTA ran short trains to New York NJTransit wouldn’t have to run long trains as long or build more parking lots or think about road widening. etc. But then Pennsylvania thinks SEPTA is a plot by evil Philadelphians to sap the vital bodily fluids of Real Americans so the chances of something cooperative like NJTransit and the MTA do with West of Hudson service isn’t on the radar. Runing two short trains instead of one long train isn’t a good idea with the current capacity problems in Penn Station.

        They had state subsidized through service, NJTransit decided that it wasn’t worthwhile to run trains in Pennsylvania that SEPTA wasn’t willing to support. But then SEPTA didn’t see much of a point because Pennsylvanians didn’t use them.

        Amtrak and NJTransit trains can show up on almost any track. Amtrak trains except for Empire Service don’t use 1-4 because 1-4 are too short. LIRR trains can’t get there. Amtrak and NJTransit trains don’t use 21 because there is no catenary. Getting to Track 19 from the west means crossing a whole lot of switches that are in use by the LIRR and it’s a lot easier to go to 12…

        …Silicon Valley isn’t Philadelphia. It’s Levittown PA on steroids. And probably always will be. Well if they try reallly reallly hard they might become Providence. Baltimore to San Francisco’s Washington? Nah they ain’t never gonna be Baltimore either.

        … so someone goes to state U and moves halfway across the country makes for in-state cohesiveness how?…..

        … The people going for an Associates degree do it a the community college where they mingle with the people from their community. Many of them the same people they went to high school with…

      • Nathanael

        “If I’m not mistaken, it’s Amtrak that forbids SEPTA and NJ Transit from running through from the Trenton Line to the NEC Line – it competes with the Regionals too much for its taste. ”

        Citation needed. I’ve always heard that it was SEPTA and NJ Transit, who refused to coordinate after Amtrak dropped the Clockers on them.

        • Alon Levy

          Citation needed.

          I don’t have one, sorry. I remember reading an article or a comment to that effect, but of course it could be wrong.

        • Adirondacker12800

          New Jersey Transit runs 12 cars trains. SEPTA runs 4 car trains. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to send 12 trains through suburbs that have enough demand for 4 car trains. If you don’t like changing trains in Trenton there’s always Amtrak.

    • BruceMcF

      is indeed not pursued, in favor of the inferior I-94 route that mainly serves Michigan.

      “Michigan owns most of it which eliminates problems with freight companies whining about those gosh darn passenger trains. That has it’s charms. There would be difficulties in convincing the Michigan legislature to spend money in Ohio. If I remember correctly they were willing to spend money in Indiana and Indiana said “No”.”

      Indiana applied for $2.8b for the Chicago to Cleveland via Fort Wayne route in the first round of Stimulus II HSR funding, but were turned down ~ I don’t recall the details, but that round allowed no-match applications, and it could have been a no match application. It could well be that there was an exploration whether Indiana would want to go for something in the repeat round after Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida gave their grants back, but clearly Indiana would have said no based on the same partisan grandstanding politics that saw those three grants handed back.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Michigan has been farting around with Chicago-Detroit for decades.
        If I’m remembering correctly it was before the Great 21st Century Depression,. Michigan, Illinois and Amtrak dangled a carrot in front of Indiana and Indians said “trains let the cooties from Chicagoans and Detroiters pass through our Real America ™” and turned it down.

  6. lpetrich

    I’d like to put in a plug for Colin Woodard’s book American Nations. That’s a very interesting cultural history of the US and Canada. He makes a convincing case that several of the US’s regional divisions are a result of which European-descended settlers got to which place first. Needless to say, his maps of cultural nations don’t follow state boundaries very well. For instance, all of New England is one cultural nation: Yankeedom. That also includes the northeastern Midwest: northern Ohio to Minnesota.

  7. mdahmus

    “Pennsylvania has Penn State at State College, but it’s in a small, faraway town, and people who can instead go to Penn or Carnegie Mellon will.”

    I could have gone to those and instead went to Penn State. The state school experience itself is an attractor for some (let’s say, a kid who wants to march in a band at halftime in front of 100,000 people). And PSU is a ‘public ivy’ (as is Ohio State), so it’s not that far down the scale; can even be higher in certain specialties.

    • Alon Levy

      How much of a public ivy is Penn State, anyway? I understand people using that term for Berkeley, and maybe also for a few universities farther down the list like Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and UCLA, but Penn State is not at that level, except perhaps at a few departments.

      • stevestofka

        Well Penn State, like *ahem* Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, and Ohio State, is a Big Ten school, so that should give you an idea of its relative academic power–Like the ACC, the Big Ten prides (prided? especially with Nebraska now in, but aren’t they also courting Rutgers?) itself on academics as well as athletics.

        • Alon Levy

          I don’t really know the athletic side of it at all. All I know is how good the university’s research is – and in this size class, the university’s prestige is strongly correlated with the quality of its research – and Penn State is no Michigan.

          • asdfsdf

            Full disclosure, I go to penn state, but in the hard sciences PSU is quite good. Good for engineering, very good for Earth sciences, best-in-class for meteorology, considered extremely competitive for gravitational physics at the graduate level.

            Much less competitive in the liberal arts. Very much an engineering/applied science school. For those areas, generally better than Penn (but varies), competing with Carnegie based on discipline.

            Penn State is also popular because it is much cheaper than the other schools, which *does* play a role in people’s decision-making.

  8. tehgreengrass

    Mm what a fun post. It is a long-time fantasy of mine that the Northeast reorganizes into regions instead of states. I strongly, strongly believe that this would help us in terms of the strengths of our core economic engines, quality of life issues, and collective wills of the regions we really live in.

    For instance, I live in South Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. For almost all of my life, I’ve felt that Trenton basically couldn’t care that South Jersey existed. North Jersey has more people, it has a larger economy, and it’s attached to the darling metro region of New York City. Trenton, in my eyes, seems to exist merely to help wealthy North Jerseyans commute to their lower Manhattan offices and to keep their sky high property taxes in check. They don’t seem too motivated to help us with our issues down here, despite the fact that there are about 2 million of us.

    Similarly, I feel like Harrisburg could give a shit that Philadelphia exists. It treats it horribly, despite Philly being the state’s largest economic engine. It starves SEPTA of funding, it restricts the city’s ability to pass laws that make sense for it. You’re just not going to have the best Philadelphia you can with, say, western PA conservative extremists saying things like public transportation is welfare (which they have).

    I really hate how imaginary state lines divide us. As a result of distant state governments, Southeast PA has to fight against South Jersey for businesses instead of being able to work together to bring them to the region in the first place. I know SEPTA has its issues, but if it actually had a dependable funding source in the form of local taxes (or something; I’m not an economist, I’ve just heard that suggested), maybe it could run better for the people who actually use it. And maybe South Jersey could get more support for its train lines that goes into Philadelphia. PATCO can use some regional planning and leadership to bring it into the 21st century, and someone needs to make the damn Atlantic City line have more trains during rush hours. Basically I just really think that in order to satisfy the reality on the ground, we need to be organized into real regions that can work together on common challenges without distant statehouses fighting against us or not caring at all.

    • Adirondacker12800

      much shorter: “It’s awful the way North Jerseyans don’t subsidize me more”

        • Adirondacker12800

          the alternate is “it’s too bad we can’t get our sweaty little hands on the money floating around in Philadelphia so we can milk it like we do Northern New Jersey”

          If you aren’t whining about how North Jerseyans aren’t willing to subsidize you more what are you whining about?

      • stevestofka

        Well there’s a New Yorker bias if I’ve ever heard one. The Philadelphia region is politically afflicted in general, particularly since Harrisburg is dominated by hill country folks, and Trenton (not unjustly) spends far more time on North Jersey concerns than South Jersey ones.

        • Adirondacker12800

          I come from Newark. I only moved up to the mountains a few years ago. There’s more people in Northern New Jersey than there are in Southern New Jersey. They have more problems to solve. Solving those problems means they can go out and make money that can be taxed to subsidize Southern New Jersey.

          • Alon Levy

            Yes… and the people I know from Upstate who are from there, like Rochester, rather than from Newark, rant to me about how the state ignores them and only cares about the city. They’re wrong, but they genuinely feel this way, which makes it easier to split. Something similar is true of England and Scotland, even – each side thinks they’re subsidizing the other, so if Scotland splits, it will be amicable, whereas Spain is using a lot of dirty politics to hold onto Catalonia.

          • Adirondacker12800

            rant to me about how the state ignores them

            It almost always boils down to the state not subsidizing their semi-rural lifestyle with money from downstate….

          • Nathanael

            The upstate cities in NY get handed tax breaks, when what they need most is probably transportation. :sigh:

            Federal policies since the 1980s, chasing manufacturing out of the US, have been really hard on the upstate cities, most of which (apart from Albany/Schenectady) were manufacturing centers — essentially, in Buffalo/Rochester/Syracuse/Binghamton we have something similar to Detroit/Cincinatti/Cleveland/Columbus. I guess the state has handled this situation better than Ohio or Michigan did, but it still doesn’t seem to have been terribly competent, or even cared to understand what was going on, which creates resentment. I think the upstate cities really do have something to complain about.

            The upstate countryside gets much more attention from the state government, but of course they think they’re ignored too; don’t people in rural areas always think this?

            There are a couple of reasons we’ll never have a split:
            (1) The upstate cities don’t actually want to be dominated in the state legislature by the redneck countryside vote, which they would be without NYC. (This is Ohio’s core political problem, and it’s a doozy.)
            (2) The Hudson Valley doesn’t fit into either side. Upstaters think it’s downstate and downstaters think it’s upstate. Technically speaking, upstate and downstate are directions (relative to the flow of the Hudson River), not locations, so we’re all correct.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The upstate cities in NY get handed tax breaks, when what they need most is probably transportation. :sigh:

            …well with better transportation to places like New York, Boston, Montreal and Toronto there would be more tourist’s wallets to fillet.

            Many of them don’t understand this and think anything other than road is a plot to sap the precious body fluids of Real Americans(tm). They don’t understand that even though they don’t work directly in the tourist trade, all those tourists means their neighbor has a job. Which means they can spend money which wends it’s way back to them. Or it means there’s enough locals to support a gas station and convenience store. Or that because lots of these awful tourists are using their second home they pay the same kind of property taxes but don’t send their kids to the school or want their garbage collected when the house is closed up for the winter. Or when they off in Albany or New York or Montreal Monday to Friday making the money that lets them buy a summer house they aren’t generating garbage or calling 911…

  9. johndmuller

    It’s easy to sign up for this upstate-downstate, city-suburbs, city-rural, red-blue, 1%-99%, us-them sort of thing and if you want to point a finger at why this is, let me suggest the @!#$%^’ing politicians, who find it convenient to run this kind of thing up the flagpole whenever they feel the need for some attention (which is, in the case of politicians, quite often apparently). Secondarily, we can blame our own @#$%^&’ing selves for taking the bait and getting riled up and letting our less civilized aspects take charge.

    The media play no small part in this as they are fond of asking provocative questions and framing the discussions in confrontational formats. We’ve got plenty of brain power, even the least cerebral of us and it is rare that any issue is as simple as the pols and the papers would have it. What we pay the politicians for is to tackle the complicated issues and to work out solutions with each other, not to stand on opposite sides of the room and shake rattles and stamp feet.

    Personally, I don’t feel that either upstate or downstate is ‘winning’. It should be and maybe even is that we are both doing better than we would on our own, although I must confess that I quite often feel that the @#$%^&ers in Albany are trying their best to see to it that not only do we both lose, but that we hate each other while we are at it.

  10. Steven H

    “Virginia would lose the DC suburbs and gain the North Carolina suburbs of Hampton Roads.”

    Yeah, that would be a bit of a problem for the North Carolinians. Besides the fact that we’re already way beyond paranoid that the Virginians want to steal our beaches, we also root for Carolina (or *shudder* Duke), and send our kids to NC State and East Carolina. Plus, a lot of folks live in NC and work in VA specifically because they do not want to live in Virginia… we’re southern by the grace of god (i.e. bad luck), but we’re North Carolinians by choice. Besides, Virginia isn’t terribly good at regional transportation planning–and it’s god-awful at statewide planning–so I doubt our transportation network would be any better if we were attached to Virginia. NC already knows that we commute to Virginia, and it plans accordingly… plus, it has high(er) gas taxes to pay for improvements. Unfortunately those are all road-based improvements… but VA wouldn’t do any better.

    At any rate, I’m not sure Hampton Roads wants to be in a state divested of its DC suburbs. If it were to ever come to that, it might as well join North Carolina and start forming ties to the Piedmont. Other than its NC suburbs, Hampton Roads has far stronger ties to the NE than to NC; but if left in a room alone with SW VA, I think they’d best look elsewhere fast.

  11. EJ

    Native Ohioan chiming in. The rapid rise and ongoing growth of Columbus here has indeed been an unusual phenomenon for a state with so many other relatively large and mid-sized cities. People would think a state with two major metropolitan areas in Cincinnati and Cleveland, and several smaller ones in Toledo, Akron-Canton, Dayton, and Youngstown (though I typically lump Dayton in with Cincinnati, and Akron-Canton into Cleveland) would not have a state capital that has been set in position to eclipse them all, and yet it seemingly has, as the beneficiary of fortuitous circumstances (late growth vs. the industrial belt cities), state policy on municipal annexation, and leadership dating back to the 1950s.

    Honestly however, I don’t think the state is as hard-bound by Columbus and Ohio State as it perhaps appears on the surface. The University of Cincinnati is the second largest university in the state for enrollment (only 12,000 fewer students than OSU) and is positioning itself to in many ways compete with Ohio State in Columbus as a major research university in its own right. I myself chose UC over OSU for grad school, despite a long-held ambition to graduate from OSU. Cincinnati was a better fit in general at the time. I know its anecdotal, but I’ve run across a number of people from in-state and elsewhere that wound up here instead of Columbus/OSU for similar reasons (there’s something to this as well, according to the in-migration maps for Cincinnati’s Hamilton County that I’ve checked out). UC may never overtake OSU, but their relationship could become something more akin to University of Pittsburgh vs. Penn State in PA as far as a regional option is concerned for SW Ohio.

    NE Ohio doesn’t have as strong of an emerging public option as Cincinnati (private Case Western carries the flag as the top regional research university here), but has several quasi-regional ones in the University of Akron, Kent State and Cleveland State University. There’s been talk as recently as 2010 of combining these separate schools (plus Youngstown State) into a regional university, but that was shelved largely due to the midterm turnover in state govt. and Kent State’s balking at the idea of losing its identity to a larger institution.

    Culturally, Cleveland as a region loves Ohio State University and its well-known football program, but holds a great deal of political animosity towards Columbus itself, feeling that the capital has usurped its title as the #1 city in the state (which isn’t entirely true or untrue). Cincinnati holds similar animosity towards Columbus for receiving higher priority in state support, but unlike Cleveland does not hold Ohio State in high regard, likely due to the regional unifying presence of UC, which Cleveland lacks. Economically, Cleveland seems to have more significant overlap with Pittsburgh than it does with Columbus or Cincinnati, while there does seem to be stronger ties between Cincinnati-Dayton and Columbus corporations. I note the overlap of major companies/corporate divisions between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, including Giant Eagle (Pittsburgh), PNC Bank (including the former Cleveland-based NationalCity), FirstEnergy (Akron), TimeWarner Cable (Akron). Columbus and Cincinnati meanwhile share ties through Kroger’s, Fifth-Third Bank, Huntington and Graeter’s.

    If it came down to it, I honestly do think the state would split northern half to south with Cleveland going its own way and possibly reorienting itself to the Northeast and closer ties with Pittsburgh, Toledo opting for similar with Detroit and the Midwest, and Columbus having to form some kind of alliance with a re-empowered Cincinnati. In essence, the balance of power would shift back to the legacy cities that don’t see their needs being addressed at the state level in Columbus. Even Ohio State isn’t strong enough to smooth over those differences.

    • big red dog

      I think you began to touch on a truth, although OSU is one of the nations largest school, the Ohio state public university system has a student population that I’m sure is 3 to 5 times that of OSU. So there are state schools all over the place. But one factor does tie the whole state together is football/band brand that OSU creates.

      I grew up in Dayton and have lived for 40 years in PA. Penn State doesn’t have nearly the power, in any form, that OSU football does on a state wide basis. I can’t explain this; both states have 2 pro football teams in their largest cities, both OSU and PSU football teams have winning and storied histories, but in Ohio it really does seem like the OSU football team and band are owned by the whole state

      • Alon Levy

        Well, when it comes to migration between counties, you don’t have to be a school for everyone: if you are a large fraction of the state’s student population, and you draw roughly equally from the entire state, that’s good enough.

  12. Adirondacker12800

    Because there’s nothing better to do in Ohio than be a football fan?

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  15. Ian Mitchell

    Lexington and Louisville are closer to Cincinnati than it is to Columbus or Columbus is to Cleveland. Probably a good candidate for a bi-state HSR agency in KY/OH.

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