Icy Rivers Create Headache for Commerce

Feb 27, 2015

Much on the Monongahela River has been reduced to one shipping channel slowing tugboat traffic.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

With Pittsburgh being plunged into arctic temperatures for much of February, the rivers have seen more ice than usual. Pittsburgh’s ports and waterways are among the largest inland ports in the country – so the slowdowns caused by the ice are causing some ripple effects. Locks on the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers are still operating – though the ice is slowing traffic.

“At least one of the two [locks] is open at all of our facilities,” said Dan Jones with the Pittsburgh District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “So we’re able to pass traffic, however the barges may have to do a double lockage, to where they would have to break down their barges into two groups and lock each group through separately.”

While most shipments go down the Mon and Ohio, the Allegheny sees a lot less traffic.

“There’s been no traffic coming down the Allegheny probably within the last couple of weeks and that has now caused the river to completely freeze over on the top and not allow traffic to pass through,” said Jones.

Jones said you can see the navigation channel on the Mon and Ohio where barges are still getting through. But, the travel is much slower than normal.

Ice floats along the edge of the one shipping lane that remains open on the Monongahela River.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

“Companies have made individual decisions based on the equipment that they have to reduce the size of the tows, for example from a nine to a six-barge tow, certain boats may not be operating that may not be able to withstand the impact of the ice,” said Dan Lacek with the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh.  

Coal, limestone, sand and gravel and road salt are among the products transported on the rivers. Waterways Association member companies transport more than 53 million tons of product annually through the Port of Pittsburgh.