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Shuster set to address infrastructure needs at Congressional hearing

| Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, 12:36 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Willie Maynard, of Toronto, Ohio, lock master at the New Cumberland Lock and Dam, talks about repairs being made to the lock in Stratton, Ohio, on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016.
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
Tim Jones, equipment mechanic at Lock and Dam #2 in Pittsburgh, walks near a deteriorating cement wall on the inside of the lock chamber on Feb. 19, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
The Montgomery Lock and Dam near Shippingport on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It shut down after a tow boat ran into one of the lock's gates Sunday night. It reopened Tuesday but will close again over the weekend to permit an inspection.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster will hold a congressional hearing next week about finding more money to improve the nation's crumbling roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure.

“With infrastructure on the front burner of the policy debate both in Congress and within the Trump administration, Chairman Shuster wants to focus attention on the need to focus infrastructure investment to maximize American competitiveness, encourage job creation and promote innovation,” Shuster spokesman Casey Contres said.

Shuster, R-Bedford County, whose district includes Fayette and Indiana counties and parts of Westmoreland, Washington and Greene, is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Next week's hearing will set the stage for the committee's work in the new Congress by exploring what must be done to build an American infrastructure for the 21st century,” Contres said.

The hearing, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Wednesday, will feature testimony from AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka and four corporate executives whose businesses are in the transportation sector or depend upon various aspects of the nation's transportation system.

All signs point to Washington taking steps to improve the nation's infrastructure.

President Donald Trump made boosting infrastructure funding a cornerstone of his campaign, promising up to $1 trillion in new spending. Infrastructure was the second policy topic Trump mentioned in his election-night victory speech, and he brought it up during his inaugural address.

Of 11 executive orders and presidential memorandums issued by Trump through Thursday, two dealt with infrastructure.

An order Tuesday called for government to “streamline and expedite, in a manner consistent with law, environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects, especially projects that are a high priority for the nation, such as improving the U.S. electric grid and telecommunications systems and repairing and upgrading critical port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges and highways.”

“Too often, infrastructure projects in the United States have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures,” Trump wrote in that order.

The same day, Trump issued a memo related to construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Among other things, he called for an expedited review of construction and easement requests to complete the pipeline, which has been the target of protests by the Native American and environmental groups.

It's not just Trump or other Republicans such as Shuster who believe more investment is needed: Senate Democrats on Tuesday pitched a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, though it wasn't clear how it would be funded.

Administration officials have said they expect Trump to offer details this spring on how he would generate the $1 trillion for his infrastructure plan, The Associated Press reported.

Two multibillion-dollar projects on Western Pennsylvania's rivers could benefit from a plan to boost federal infrastructure funding.

A $2.7 billion project to repair two lock-and-dam facilities and remove a third facility on the Monongahela River was given a green light to proceed in 2004 but has inched along. The Army Corps still needs to complete improvements to Locks and Dam 4 in Charleroi and remove Locks and Dam 3 in Elizabeth.

“We've been given small, incremental pieces of funding since 2009, so we've had to break up the project into small incremental pieces of work,” said Lenna Hawkins, deputy engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers' Pittsburgh district.

The project is on pace to be completed in 2023, Hawkins said.

Congress last year authorized up to $2.7 billion in federal funding to repair three lock-and-dam facilities on the Ohio River, but no money has been allocated to improve the Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams between Pittsburgh and the Ohio line. The facilities began operating between 1921 and 1936.

Of those, Montgomery locks and dam in Beaver County is in the worst shape.

“There is a 50 percent probability that it will fail by 2028,” Hawkins said of Montgomery.

Montgomery's two locks share a middle wall that has a crack running vertically from the foundation to the surface. If the crack became bad enough, authorities could be forced to close both locks — a move that would halt river traffic in both directions on the Upper Ohio River.

Barge operators along the region's rivers are accustomed to such shutdowns.

Equipment failures, flooding and other problems at Montgomery caused 196 unscheduled closures of locks between 2013 and 2015, keeping them out of service for a combined 8,974 hours, according to Army Corps data. By comparison, Emsworth and Dashields had a combined 203 closures amounting to 658 hours, Army Corps data show.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed.

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