Repairs Remain Long Overdue at Locks and Dam in Elizabeth
18 July 2014
By Len Boselovic
The 107-year-old locks and dam on the Monongahela River at
Elizabeth were supposed to be gone long ago, replaced by more
modern locks and dams at Braddock and Charleroi as part of a $750
million project approved by Congress in 1992.
But funding delays and cost overruns at other river projects
overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mean the project is
now expected to cost $2.7 billion. Originally scheduled to be
completed in 2004, the project may not be finished for another
decade or longer.
Industry officials and Congressional staffers got a first-hand
look at the funding hole Friday as Corps officials took them down
into the dewatered bottom of one of Elizabeth‘s two locks, where
$3 million in repairs are being made to lock gates and valves used
to empty the chamber. A similar project was completed at a cost of
$2 million in 2006, two years after Elizabeth’s locks and dam
were to have been removed.
“We’re hoping this is the last time, but that’s what we thought
in 2006,” said Don Fogel, who is in charge of maintenance in the
Corps’ Pittsburgh office.
Standing in the bottom of the chamber, Mr. Fogel gave chunks of
concrete from the ancient lock’s crumbly walls as souvenirs to
visiting Corps dignitaries and a representative of the Port of
Pittsburgh Commission. He said the Corps has spent $13 million
repairing Elizabeth since 2006, more than six times the $1.7
million cost of building the project in 1907.
It is money that could have been spent on other river projects
that also are in dire need of repair or replacement. About 60
percent of the Corps’ 242 locks and related dams are older than
50 years, how long they were built to last, according to AEP River
Operations executive Martin Hettel, chairman of an industry group
that advises the Corps.
Legislation recently signed by President Barack Obama could
advance completion of the Lower Mon project. Part of that project
included the construction of a new dam in Braddock, which was
finished in 2004. Yet to be completed are two new locks at
Charleroi, and dredging the river to allow barge traffic to move
between those two facilities. The locks and dams at Elizabeth,
which lie in between, will be removed.
The new law requires the federal government to cover more of the
cost of a project on the Ohio River that has been plagued by
expense overruns and delays.
That Olmsted, Ill., project has been receiving the bulk of federal
and industry funding that goes toward major Corps
projects. And that has left little money for the Corps to
complete the Lower Mon project, the agency‘s No. 2 priority.
The Corps and the barge industry typically split the cost of major
projects. The industry pays a 20 cent-per-gallon tax on diesel
fuel that barge operators use, funds that are matched by the
Under the new legislation, the funding formula for Olmsted will
change to make taxpayers responsible for 75 percent of the cost.
That is expected to free up an additional $105 million for the
Lower Mon work and other long-delayed projects.
However, the legislation only authorized Congress to provide the
funding. Congress must still approve an appropriations bill that
provides the money.
Congress also is considering proposals to raise the diesel tax by
6 to 9 cents per gallon. Each penny increase would provide about
$4 million in additional funding, which would be matched by the
federal government. The barge industry backs the increase.
Depending on the outcome of those proposals, completion of the Low
Mon work, currently set for 2028, should be accelerated.
“We just can‘t tell how much,” said Jeanine Hoey of the Corps
Len Boselovic: 412-263-1941 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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