Congress Expected to Vote This Week On Bill That Could Fund Mon Locks-and-Dam Project

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
19 May 2014
Bobby Kerlik 412-320-7886

Congress is expected to vote this week on a bill that could provide more than $100 million annually to fund the behind-schedule lower Monongahela River locks-and-dam project.

The project remains $1 billion short of the funding needed for completion, despite an additional $74.7 million in funding for the Army Corps of Engineers this year.

“It's a very good start,” said Peter Stephaich, chairman and CEO of Campbell Transportation Co. in Houston in Washington County. “The structural part of (the bill) is a long-term change. It will change the way the money flows.”

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act changes how federal money is doled out from a trust fund dedicated to waterway projects — particularly a $3 billion project to build a dam and locks along the Ohio River near Olmsted, Ill.

That project, which drained the trust fund before other projects could get money, will be funded at a lower rate, freeing an expected $124 million next year.

The lower Mon project is expected to get about $100 million of that, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said during a visit to Pittsburgh on Monday.

Casey pushed for the bill and supports an increase in the fuel tax used by riverboats, from 20 cents a gallon to 29 cents. That will require a separate vote.

“Part of the way to get there is to have the fee (increase),” Casey said. “This isn't a one-year, two-year race; this is more of a marathon.”

Stephaich said he and other river shippers support the fee increase because the money would be dedicated to projects that benefit them.

“There's 350 companies that are going to be paying this, and we're all unified and have asked for this,” Stephaich said. “We pay tremendous costs every year in lock delays. There's a big direct cost to us for not having these locks correctly operational.”

The Corps expected to finish the lower Monongahela River project within 10 years when work began in 1994 on what was then a $750 million project to remove the locks and dam in Elizabeth, replace a dam in Braddock and build locks in Charleroi. Funding shortfalls and delays postponed the projected completion date to at least 2031.

“But once we start getting funded efficiently, we're probably cutting off eight, nine years of construction,” said Jeanine Hoey, chief of programs and project management for the corps' Pittsburgh District.

The Braddock dam replacement is completed. Corps data show the project received $108.5 million during the past five years.

Bobby Kerlik is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or

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