Geography made Western New York a prosperous region once, and there’s an emerging chance geography will play a key role in its recovery. Global and continental changes in trade are making transportation experts look, once again, at this area’s strategic border location and its potential as a transhipment center. The challenge for local leaders is to help make that happen, and to help make some of the wealth from cargo shipments find a home here.

Western New York is positioned to capitalize. A major air cargo facility at Niagara Falls International Airport is a high-potential possibility that most recently has drawn serious support from Rep. Louise Slaughter, for example.

For years, the state experimented with the idea of making Buffalo, still a rail hub and a major border highway crossing, a cargo-handling extension of the vital but increasingly clogged Port of New York. That has yet to bear fruit.

But backers of the Port of Halifax, which has a deep harbor that can handle the next generation of huge container ships that New York may not be able to take, were here recently to point out the possibility of rail shipments through Canada and across the International Railroad Bridge to rail yards here for access to the East. And the slowly progressing Continental One superhighway, of which Route 219 is a developing part, would enhance this region’s East Coast truck route hub as well.

What could propel changes is the emergence of container superships over the next two decades. A global shift to the use of freight containers that can be lifted from ships to trucks and rail cars would return value to ports with the harbor and elevator facilities to break bulk grain lake shipments from the U.S. and Canadian heartlands into containers, and to places where existing rail, water, road and air routes converge. And, as the Halifax backers pointed out, West Coast ports are near capacity and more Asian cargoes may soon go to East Coast ports.

This region’s transportation hubs would need adjacent commerce parks to make the area a trade center instead of a revolving door, but the necessary work would be measured in tens, rather than hundreds, of millions. There is a glimmer of opportunity here, and working waterfronts have proven compatible with recreational ones in many cities. The possibilities are well worth exploring.