March 14–U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is urging the Trump administration to provide nearly $50 million this year for continuing work to improve navigation on the lower Monongahela River.
President Obama didn’t put money in this year’s budget for the project to repair two lock-and-dam facilities and remove a third between Braddock and Charleroi. In a letter Tuesday to President Trump, Casey, D-Scranton, said the project needs at least $47.6 million to remain on track.
The money would come from a trust fund used for infrastructure improvements on the nation’s inland waterways.
“If the Lower Mon project is not funded, a work stoppage would cost the southwestern region of Pennsylvania millions of dollars and harm the economy,” Casey wrote.
Casey estimated such a stoppage would add another four years to a project that is already more than a decade behind schedule.
When work began in 1994, the Army Corps of Engineers expected to finish the project in a decade for $750 million. It now estimates the project will cost $2.7 billion and continue until well into the next decade.
The locks and dams on the Lower Mon are among the nation’s oldest, with the respective facilities having opened in 1906, 1907 and 1932.
Funding for the project has been declining since 2014, when the Army Corps received $72.7 million for improvements. It received $56 million in 2015 and $52 million last year.
“Failure to sufficiently invest in the project could seriously impair the transportation of major commodities that are vital to southwestern Pennsylvania and the United States,” Casey wrote.
Between 6.3 million and 8.4 million tons of coal moved through Lower Mon locks and dams in 2016, along with 1.5 million to 2 million tons of crude materials, excluding fuels, according to Army Corps data.
“Numerous industries rely on the Monongahela River to transport their goods and materials and, if the locks and dams fail, businesses will suffer and industry would see a significant increase in the cost of moving goods,” Casey wrote.
Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.