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Valley News Dispatch

Allegheny River lock, dam repairs funded under Trump's budget plan

Mary Ann Thomas
| Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, 6:30 p.m.
Allegheny River Lock and Dam No. 2 is located in Pittsburgh, across from Sharpsburg, Aspinwall and Etna. It's just downstream from the Highland Park Bridge.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Allegheny River Lock and Dam No. 2 is located in Pittsburgh, across from Sharpsburg, Aspinwall and Etna. It's just downstream from the Highland Park Bridge.

The Allegheny River's locks and dams are on quite the roller coaster courtesy of the president's budget, with a 260 percent boost in fiscal year 2018 from the previous year, then a 56 percent decrease in fiscal 2019.

Federal funding has been sinking for the Allegheny River navigational facilities over the past decade because of their lack of commercial traffic, a driving factor in the federal funding formula.

A good chunk of the $18 million for the Allegheny River in President Trump's fiscal 2018 budget — which is 3.6 times that of the fiscal 2017 budget of $5 million — would pay to repair the decaying lock walls at Lock and Dam No. 2 at Highland Park in Pittsburgh.

Funding later would drop closer to recent historical levels.

It's not that the federal budget process was particularly generous with the Allegheny River in fiscal 2018. But the condition of the concrete at lock No. 2 is so bad, it's considered dangerous to workers and potentially others.

“What is being recognized in the way of funding is the fact that these are very deteriorated conditions,” said Lenna Hawkins, deputy district engineer at the Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District.

The Corps expects to award the contract this summer, with the project stretching into 2019. Lock No. 2 is the busiest lock for recreational boat traffic in the Pittsburgh District and among the busiest in the nation.

The Corps expects the fiscal 2018 appropriation, although it's still pending final congressional passage.

The president's budget serves as a road map for federal spending. Congress draws up and passes the actual federal budget.

The fiscal 2019 budget, which was announced earlier this week, includes $131 million in new federal funding for the Pittsburgh District's civil works program, which is part of the $4.8 billion in discretionary funding for the Corps civil works program worldwide.

The fiscal 2019 budget includes $7.9 million for operations and maintenance of the Allegheny River locks and dams.

While funding levels have been declining but settling at about $5 million a year for the Allegheny facilities, the fiscal 2019 budget is 58 percent higher because the Corps is changing its own funding process.

The 2019 increase will pay for more Corps workers to staff the Allegheny locks and dams, according to Hawkins.

The Corps instituted new standards for staffing the locks and dams, and the Allegheny needed some workers to meet those new standards, she said.

“This will help with Allegheny River Development Corp. and the struggle to have staffing in the Armstrong County upper locks,” Hawkins said.

The nonprofit development corporation enjoys a unique partnership with the Corps; it raises money to open four locks in Armstrong County on summer weekends and other days to recreational boaters.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib. Staff writer Matthew Medsger contributed to this report.

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