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Mon River project to get boost, according to Army Corps of Engineers

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By Bobby Kerlik
Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 11:39 p.m.
 

A critical Monongahela River project that is 10 years behind schedule got a $74.7 million bump in funding on Tuesday that planners say will help speed the completion.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced the funds for the Lower Monongahela River project, which supporters say is critical for the region.

“We've been actively working on this issue. This is a very positive development. There's just horrendous deterioration of these structures and they're at risk of failure,” said Peter Stephaich, chairman and CEO of Campbell Transportation Co. in Houston, Washington County. “If they're going to keep that river open, they need to replace them.”

The corps had expected to finish the Lower Monongahela River project within 10 years when work began in 1994 on what was then 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 2025.

The Braddock dam replacement has been completed and about $1 billion more is needed to finish the project, according to the corps. Corps data show the project has received $108.5 million over the past five years.

The funding announced on Tuesday will pay for replacement of a piece of the lock at Charleroi, said Jeanine Hoey, chief of programs and project management for the corps' Pittsburgh District.

“It's the smallest piece we could break off that would further construction,” Hoey said. “It will cut three years off the total duration than if we had to wait for Olmsted to get completed.”

The Lower Mon project is behind a higher priority, $3 billion project to build a dam and locks along the Ohio River near Olmsted, Ill. A one-time change in the funding calculation this year freed up money for the Lower Mon project.

Jim McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, said while much more money is needed, every dollar is important.

“This is funding we haven't seen in five years,” McCarville said. “The lock and dam at Elizabeth are over 100 years old. These are very, very old facilities desperately in need of modernization.”

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 bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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