Shippers Welcome Lock, Dam Funding for Monongahela River Project
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
19 February 2015
By Bobby Kerlik
Consistent federal funding appears to be on the way for the
long-delayed lower Monongahela River locks-and-dams project, a
move applauded by river shippers who say some dams are in such bad
shape it costs them time and money.
“We don't have a choice. If we're going to operate, we need locks
and dams. Reliability is the key thing,” said Peter Stephaich,
chairman and CEO of Campbell Transportation Co. in Washington
“We have lock delays continuously. We have to skinny our tows down
at Charleroi from regular tows. We have to basically leave barges
below, put them in smaller groups and then take them up three at a
time — and then put them back together to (push) them six at a
“So it's like a bottleneck at Elizabeth and Charleroi. It's like
going from a four-lane highway to two lanes.”
The Army Corps of Engineers agreed last month to pump $58 million
into the Lower Mon project, and President Obama's 2016 budget
allocated $52 million more. The project remains $1 billion short
of the funding needed for completion, although officials are
considering scaling back a portion of the project.
The Corps expected to finish the Lower Mon project within 10 years
when work began in 1994. At the time, it was 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 2023.
The Braddock dam replacement is completed. The new money will go
toward new lock construction at Charleroi, said Stephen Fritz, the
Corps' project manager. Tweaks made by Congress in how federal
money is doled out and an increase in the diesel tax paid by
shippers from 20 cents a gallon to 29 cents have helped the Lower
Mon project, Fritz said.
“It's provided a lot more consistent funding,” Fritz said. The
Water Resources Reform and Development Act, passed last year,
changed how federal money comes out of 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.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, announced the funding changes Thursday
aboard a boat of the Gateway Clipper Fleet at Station Square.
Casey has pushed for the changes that he says will benefit
shipping. Casey said problems with the locks cost businesses $220
million a year.
“Those are numbers we want to wipe away,” Casey said. “We know
this system moves commodities not just here in Southwestern
Pennsylvania but across the country.”
Barges carried 54.7 million tons of cargo through Monongahela
River locks in 2012, up 11 percent from 2011, corps data show.
Many locks and dams in the Pittsburgh area were built in the 1930s
or earlier, including the Elizabeth dam, which was built in 1907.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be
reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.