River of Support: The Mon’s Lock-and-Dam Overhaul Gets a Boost
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
5 February 2015
By the Editorial Board
Work on the decaying locks and dams on the Monongahela River,
already decades behind schedule, is getting a second major
infusion of money in as many years, thanks largely to a change in
Sen. Bob Casey announced Monday that the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers will invest $58 million in the project. The funding
follows $74.6 million allotted for it last year.
Twenty-three years ago, Congress approved a project that would
replace the locks and dams on the Monongahela at both Braddock and
Charleroi. A new dam at Braddock was completed in 2004, but two
new locks at Charleroi are yet to be built, along with dredging
the river between the locations and removal of the locks and dam
at Elizabeth. The work, which could cost $2.7 billion, is expected
to take a decade or more.
Although it has long been the corps’ No. 2 priority, most of the
available funds in years past have gone to its No. 1 concern, a
project on the Ohio River in Olmsted, Ill.
Last year, Congress passed the Water Resources Reform Development
Act, which included the River Act that Mr. Casey introduced.
Before that, the cost of the Olmsted project was split 50-50
between the federal government and the Inland Waterways Trust
Fund, financed with taxes paid by the barge industry. Under the
new law, 85 percent of that project’s funding now will come from
the federal budget, freeing up more money from the trust fund for
work on the Mon and elsewhere.
The barge industry also will be paying more in diesel fuel taxes,
which were raised, with its consent, from 20 cents per gallon to
29 cents. Given that, the Waterways Council, which lobbies for the
industry, is disappointed that the president did not request more
in his 2016 budget for the nation’s river projects. The
deterioration of the locks and dams on the Mon is not unique in
the nation. Sixty percent of the corps’ 242 locks and related dams
are older than 50 years, their projected lifespan.
Although it’s encouraging that more money has been directed toward
this vital project, there’s a long way to go before the region has
modern infrastructure in place to keep its river traffic flowing.