Locks and dams on the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers are crucial to recreation, commerce and flood control. But local officials are worried the federal budget for 2018 won’t include money for an ongoing locks and dam project.
On Monday, they gathered on a boat in the Monongahela River to urge Washington to invest in the region’s inland waterways, and to continue funding the Lower Mon project.
The locks and dams at Braddock, Elizabeth and Charleroi are some of the oldest in the nation, and the oldest in the Monongahela River Navigation System. Age isn’t necessarily a proxy for failure, but delays or failures there are costly for the region, said Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey.
“We’re told by the Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we’re losing $220 million in average annual economic benefits due to lack of funding for the Lower Mon project," Casey said.
Locks and dams on the nation’s rivers make them navigable, and allow goods to move around the country. Without reliable infrastructure, the region loses its ability to attract new business, like the $6 billion Shell plant 30 miles downriver, said Peter Stephaich, CEO of the barge company Campbell Transportation.
“Large companies can invest the money anywhere,” he said. “We need to get these [inland waterways infrastructure] projects done and completed, so that we can attract the investment, the jobs, that benefit this whole region.”
While the Lower Mon project was only supposed to take 10 years to complete, it is now in its 23rd year, due—in part—to inconsistent Congressional funding, said Mary Ann Bucci, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.
“When the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] is trying to plan these projects, they got to plan for a budget with zero or $89 million,” she said. “ It actually makes the project more expensive.”
The budget for fiscal year 2017 allocated $89 million to the Lower Mon project, while the president’s proposed budget does not provide any funding. There doesn’t seem to be any justification for doing so, said Senator Casey.