Congressmen Urge Army Corps to Finish Study to Free Up Funds For
Lock and Dam Repair
6 April 2016
By Jason Cato
A new federal inland waterways capital spending bill could move
toward a House vote next month, extending hopes that a $2 billion
project for locks and dams along the Ohio River might not be dead
in the water.
“This project needs to move forward,” said Rep. Bill Shuster,
R-Bedford County, chairman of the House Transportation and
Shuster on Wednesday visited the Emsworth Locks and Dams along
with fellow Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus of Sewickley, and others
involved with the river system to pressure the Army Corps of
Engineers to complete a study that has taken 13 years and $17
million, but isn't finished.
A completed study is necessary to get congressional approval for a
$2.3 billion project to build 600-by-110-foot locks at Emsworth,
Dashields and Montgomery dams.
Emsworth was built in the 1920s. It underwent a renovation in the
1980s, Rothfus said.
There is a 50 percent chance one of those three sites that make up
the Upper Ohio River Navigation system will experience a
“catastrophic failure” by 2028, said Rothfus, citing figures from
Army Corps officials.
“These facilities are at risk,” he said.
Shuster vowed to explore ways to get the Upper Ohio project
included in the Water Resources and Development Act, which he said
he plans to move from his committee to the House floor in May. The
Army Corps in Washington, D.C., however, is re-examining its
report because an independent review questioned its cost-benefit
analysis as being too conservative and its timeframe for
recovering from a major problem — such as a wall collapse — as
being too short.
Rothfus criticized the Army Corps for taking too long to examine
such an important issue.
“These delays are inexcusable. They need to stop dragging their
feet,” he said.
He said he was not being critical of the Army Corps staff that
oversees local operations of the locks and dams, calling it a
The Army Corps understands how important the Upper Ohio project
and is trying to complete the report as soon as possible “without
compromising the integrity of the study content and the checks and
balances placed on the study process,” said Carol Davis, a
spokeswoman for the agency's Pittsburgh office.
The Port of Pittsburgh uses the Upper Ohio locks to help move more
than 35 million tons of cargo each year. That includes petroleum
products, processed metal, grain, construction equipment and coal.
The coal carried on 25 barges would require about 1,000 trucks to
haul over roads, said Peter Stephaich, CEO of Campbell
Transportation Co., a Washington County-based barge operator. He
called river shipping crucial.
“It's the lowest cost mode of transportation. It's the safest mode
of transportation. And it's the most environmentally friendly mode
of transportation,” Stephaich said.
The industry agreed to a fuel tax increase to help pay for
necessary improvements to the system, he said.
A 9-cent hike went into effect in 2015, meaning that a total 29
cents per gallon of barge diesel fuel sold is reserved for the
Inland Waterways Trust Fund — an amount matched by federal dollars
to pay for new construction and rehabilitation of the inland
“We feel this is cash we put into the system,” Stephaich said,
“and we want to make sure it is spent efficiently and properly.”