Obama Proposes Money for Locks, Dams in Lower Mon Project

The Valley Indepedent
5 February 2015
By Chris Buckley

Jim Ference | The tug, Stephen P. Venable, passes through the Charleroi Locks and Dam 4 in Monessen on the Monongahela River. On Tuesday, June, 18,2013.

President Barack Obama's proposed 2016 fiscal year budget includes $52 million for the Lower Mon Project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Wednesday.

Coming on the heels of the corps' decision to direct $58 million in “unallocated funds” to the locks and dams project, Obama's proposal gives hopes that work will be completed by 2024 – 20 years after its initial completion date.

The project involves improvements to locks and dams on the Monongahela River in North Charleroi, Elizabeth and Braddock.

Money has been an ongoing problem for the project, which began in 1992.

Stephen Fritz, Lower Mon Project manager, said that to achieve the 2024 completion date, the corps would need to receive $600 million to $700 million over the period.

“That figure is dependent on the contracts that need to be awarded for any given year,” Fritz said.

Since the project began, the corps has received $740 million, including $84 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The stimulus money was used for construction of the river wall and upper and lower guard walls in North Charleroi.

The money will advance work on the project, which involves rehabilitation of Locks and Dam 2 in Braddock and construction of two larger locks at Locks and Dam 4 in North Charleroi. Eventually, Locks and Dam 3 in Elizabeth will be removed.

A new dam has been completed at Braddock.

“With that money, we hope to award the contract for the river chamber completion – one contract with multiple options for future years to complete,” Fritz said of the proposed 2016 allocation.

The construction of a new river chamber in North Charleroi would span seven to eight years and cost $250 million to $500 million, Fritz said.

The $600 million to $700 million price tag to complete the project would also involve dredging of the Monongahela River. The corps plans to dredge the river north of Locks and Dam 3 over a three-year period, beginning in 2018 or 2019, Fritz said.

Currently, only the land chamber is operational at North Charleroi. The river chamber was closed a decade ago to prepare for construction of the new river chamber.

“We are authorized to build the land chamber, too,” said Fritz, adding, “We can achieve over 90 percent of the project benefits by never building the land chamber.

“The primary goal is to get the river chamber complete, get the dredging completed and then remove Locks and Dam 3.”

Both chambers at North Charleroi are built on a common wall, which was founded on timber.

“Although we continue to pass traffic through the chamber, we do have concerns about how long it will remain operational,” Fritz said. “It's not an immediate concern. I have more concern about Locks and Dam 3. If we have a failure that causes us to lose the pool – if that pool elevation drops – that could cause some stability issues at (North) Charleroi.”

The locks and dams have a tremendous economic impact on the region. Roughly 12 million tons of cargo travel through North Charleroi annually. Fritz said transportation costs are roughly $10 per ton less by barge than by truck or rail.

About 80 percent of the barge cargo is coal, although tows also move aggregate, fly ash, salt, petroleum and chemical products.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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