Waterways Projects Await Funding, Corps of Engineers Study
21 May 2016
By Tracie Mauriello
WASHINGTON – Legislation slowly winding its way through Congress
would fund long-awaited improvements to the nation’s aging
waterways infrastructure, including replacement of three locks on
the upper Ohio River.
First, though, the Army Corps of Engineers has to finalize its
Upper Ohio Navigation Study, which is 13 years and $17 million in
the making. That should be done by fall, Maj. Gen. Donald Ed
Jackson of the Corps of Engineers told an impatient House panel
If it isn’t, plans to replace deteriorating locks and dams could
be delayed until 2018, when Congress is scheduled to consider its
next water resources development bill.
The U.S. Senate last week took an important step toward funding
the work when it passed a $37.5 billion appropriations bill for
energy and water programs, including nearly $3.2 billion for Corps
of Engineers civil works projects. That’s $467 million more than
President Barack Obama requested in his budget.
The House is working on its own plan, so the legislation is likely
headed to a conference committee.
That’s just the first hurdle.
Congress also must pass a separate authorization bill allowing
specific projects to be funded, and that can’t happen until the
Corps of Engineers presents its feasibility study to Congress.
The study recommends replacing the Emsworth, Dashields and
Montgomery locks on the Upper Ohio at a combined cost of $2.3
At least half the cost of major river projects is funded through a
29-cent per gallon tax on diesel fuel that barge operators pay.
The rest comes from federal taxpayers.
The work is crucial to the economy, which depends on a system of
waterways to transport goods through the middle of the country.
“Unscheduled repairs are devastating,” said Mary Ann Bucci,
interim executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.
“It isn’t like a road closure when you might be able to take
another road. You can’t do that. You’ve got to sit and wait for
the lock to reopen, and if a plant is depending on raw materials
that can’t get there, it’s devastating,” she said.
Barge operators say they often have to wait hours – and sometimes
days – for their turn to pass through the upper Ohio River’s
narrow channels while locks are under seemingly perpetual repair.
The older locks and dams are, the more often they have to be
closed for emergency repairs. Complete failure of lock and dam
could be catastrophic for the regional economy, which is dependent
on the abilty to use the Ohio River to transport coal, steel,
grain, fuel and much more, operators said.
“Delays create a logistical nightmare,” said Michael J. Monahan,
president of Campbell Transportation Co. in Houston, Pa., which
operates 600 barges.
A 10-day trip down the Ohio can turn into two weeks, holding up
deliveries of goods customers are counting on to produce
everything from food to electricity to steel, Mr. Monahan said.
“Our boats are sitting there idle without moving. We’re paying for
the crews and we’re paying for the equipment that’s not moving,
and that’s where our losses get real big in a hurry,” he said.
Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery aren’t the only locks in danger
of failing. Many others throughout 12,000 miles of U.S. rivers are
in similar disrepair including those on the lower Monongahela
River at Braddock, Charleroi and Elizabeth.
The Senate bill includes $52 million for work on the those locks.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello:
firstname.lastname@example.org; 703-996-9292 or on Twitter