A Real Road Block: Street Fix Costs Bog Down Repair to Lock

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
18 March 2012
By Len Boselovic

A 500-foot stretch of sunken, disarrayed blacktop on McCutcheon Way in Crescent illustrates the challenges America faces in repairing its disintegrating infrastructure.

The small township, which borders the Ohio River and owns McCutcheon Way, closed the road May 23 [2011]after spring rains and shifting soil created 6- to 8-inch gaps in the road deep enough to stick your arm in up to your shoulder.

Crescent's board of commissioners is loathe to raise taxes or borrow to repair the road at an estimated cost of $250,000 -- about 15 percent of its annual budget.

County, state and federal agencies that township officials have appealed to for funds feel the same way.

Meanwhile, less than a quarter-mile down the road from the landslide, an unstable concrete wall at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Dashields lock tilts toward the Ohio River. The Corps awarded a $3.1 million contract in August for work to be done to prevent the wall from falling into the river, a failure that would compound the mounting delays barge operators already face.

But McCutcheon Way is the only road that cement trucks and other construction vehicles needed to do the work can use to reach the lock.

And McCutcheon remains closed.

"Unless somebody steps up, that road's going to be closed for a while," said Bill Cook, president of Crescent's board of commissioners. "With the economy the way it is, there's no money to fix this."

Crescent, population 2,640, has an annual budget of $1.6 million.

It would cost nearly as much to fix McCutcheon Way as the township spends each year on public safety. Commissioners would have to raise real estate taxes 38 percent -- to 9 mills from 6.5 mills -- to cover the cost of the repairs, Mr. Cook said.

The only money Crescent has received for the project was $5,000 from the Port of Pittsburgh Commission. That money was used to cover part of the $28,000 the township has spent on engineering and legal fees in trying to resolve the issue with the Corps.

Bert Edwardo, the realty officer in the Corps' Pittsburgh district office, said there was a tentative agreement for the agency to take ownership of the road while the lock was being repaired. The Corps had agreed to rebuild the road and return it to Crescent after the project was completed, he said.

But before the agreement could be signed, there was a second, more serious, landslide on the road over the New Year's weekend. That caused the Corps to rethink the move.

Spokesman Dan Jones said the Corps is considering terminating or postponing the contract for repairing the lock, which was awarded to Gregori Construction & Engineering of Sarver. Both of those options would cost money, he said.

A spokesman for Gregori declined comment.

For the time being, Corps personnel are getting to and from the lock using an access road that belongs to CSX Corp., whose railroad tracks bisect McCutcheon Way between the lock and the landslide. And the agency is looking for other ways to get the job done, including building a new road.

"This work needs to get done and we have to figure out a way to get it done," Mr. Jones said.

Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.