Repairs to Ohio River Lock Delayed Due to Damaged Road

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
17 May 2012
By Len Boselovic

May 17--Critical repairs to an unstable Ohio River lock have been postponed indefinitely because Crescent Township and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot agree on a plan to fix a damaged road that is preventing construction trucks from reaching the lock.

Corps spokesman Jeff Hawk said township officials rejected the agency's offer to pay for repairing McCutcheon Way, a township-owned road that leads to the Corps' Dashields Lock and the township's Shouse Park.

The sticking point was the Corps' request to be able to close the park for a bigger, long-term construction project Mr. Hawk said may not begin for years.

Township officials "had a bird in their hand and they suffocated it," Mr. Hawk said. "We're beyond frustrated to stunned. We're done unless they make some extraordinary gesture."

Crescent's board of supervisors unanimously voted down the offer Tuesday night because they did not want to give the Corps "free rein to close our park anytime they wanted," said board president Bill Cook.

"Are we ready to give away the farm to the Corps? No, we're not willing to do that," Mr. Cook said.

The park has been closed since Crescent officials barricaded the road last May after spring rains and shifting soil created 6- to 8-inch gaps large enough to stick an arm in up to the shoulder. Mr. Cook said it would cost an estimated $250,000 to repair the road, a project that would put a big hole in the township's $1.6 million annual budget.

The impasse means the Corps cannot go forward with a $3.1 million contract it awarded last year to stabilize a lock wall so it will not fall into the river. The debilitated condition of the Dashields lock, completed in 1929, is typical of the problems the Corps faces nationwide in maintaining an aging portfolio of about 200 locks and related dams.

Corps and industry officials warn that the collapse of a lock or dam along the Ohio or other busy river would bring barge traffic to a halt. Shifting coal and other commodities from barges to highways or railroads would increase traffic congestion and boost costs for shippers and consumers.

Mr. Hawk said work on the unstable wall "is not going to be done anytime soon."

Under the Corps' proposal, the federal government would have taken over the road and most of the responsibility for maintaining it. The township's only obligation would have been to clear it during the winter.

Mr. Hawk said the contractor who was to have done the lock repairs estimated it would cost considerably more than $250,000 to fix the road. Despite funding shortfalls, the Corps was willing to pay because of the urgent need to repair the wall.

"We had to scrape and argue for this money. It was not easy money," Mr. Hawk said.

The Corps is considering permanent improvements at Dashields and two other Ohio River locks, but that work has not been authorized by Congress. Democratic President Barack Obama's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in October includes $1 million to study what should be done at the three facilities. Mr. Hawk said it may be 20 years before the Corps would need to use the park as a staging area for construction.

Meanwhile, Crescent has ruled out increasing township taxes about 38 percent to repair the road. Mr. Cook said the township has applied for a grant from a state fund supported by gambling revenue.

"We feel pretty confident about these grants coming," he said.

Len Boselovic: or 412-263-1941.