Wireless Network to Help Commercial River Traffic
Beaver County Times
13 January 2013
By Michael Pound
PITTSBURGH -- The rivers in the Pittsburgh area have been used for
commercial purposes for centuries. And in many ways, navigating
those rivers hasn't changed much over time.
But the Port of Pittsburgh will soon set up 21st-century
technology along the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers to
improve safety, increase efficiency and collect a lot of
information about what's traveling up and down those waterways.
"The system will have plenty of benefits for plenty of groups,"
said James McCarville, executive director of the Port of
Pittsburgh. "But I'm looking at it as a business attraction tool,
because it's going to make our waterways look very attractive."
The Wireless Waterways project was born out of another high-tech
navigational tool called SmartLock, developed a few years ago by
the port and Carnegie Mellon University. McCarville said that
system was designed to improve efficiency around the area's locks.
"For years, navigation around the locks consisted of a deckhand
standing on the barges and telling the pilot he was about 200 feet
from the entrance," McCarville said. "But one guy's 200 feet is
different from another guy's 200 feet, and that can create some
SmartLock is a virtual navigation system that gives pilots
constantly updated information about where they are in relation to
the lock's facilities.
"A pilot on a towboat looks on a computer screen and sees the
exact position of the boat and barges," he said. "The information
is very precise."
But to get SmartLock running, the port needed a wireless network
in place. That spawned River-Net, a project to examine all modes
of communication along the waterways and all the groups -- the
Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, commercial carriers and
officials from the port -- that use them.
"Carnegie Mellon developed concepts for the network from there,
and we then issued a design request for proposals," McCarville
said. "That primarily included the facilities we have in Allegheny
and Beaver counties."
Last summer, after securing a U.S. Department of Homeland Security
grant, the port awarded a $1.3 million contract to CONXX Inc. in
Johnstown to build the first portion of the broadband network,
which covers Emsworth, the port's offices in downtown Pittsburgh
and the Army Corps' warehouse facility.
It won't take long for the network to be extended. By the end of
February, it will be extended to locks on the Allegheny and
Monogahela; by the end of May, it will cover Dashields at
Coraopolis, and Montgomery in Potter Township.
The network will allow the port, the Army Corps and the tow
companies to begin using SmartLock at those facilities. But
McCarville said the network also will provide other benefits.
"With improved navigation and better efficiencies, we're going to
be able to do a better job of coordinating intermodal transfers,"
he said, referring to transferring cargo between barges and trucks
or trains. "That alone is going to save our commercial partners a
lot of time and money."
Collecting data about the rivers and their traffic also will help
entities that need it.
"The (state) Department of Environmental Protection, the National
Weather Service, municipal water or sewer authorities will all get
a much better, much more timely set of data about the rivers than
they can get now," he said. "This is something that will extend
well beyond the commercial traffic."
McCarville said expansion beyond the Pittsburgh region could be
accomplished more quickly with further grant funds. He estimated
that implementing the network nationally would cost between $10
million and $20 million, but he anticipated that the network would
bring in some revenue as well.
"When our commercial partners see how much time and money they'll
be able to save, I think we'll be able to discuss a contribution
to the system," he said. "This is going to be a big bang for
everyone involved." ___
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