Guest EDITORIAL: Rebuilding infrastructure takes funding, Mr. President

The Tribune-Democrat

July 03–The following editorial appeared in the (Uniontown) Herald-Standard. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.

Speaking about rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure last month in Cincinnati, President Trump pointed to a five-day shutdown on the Ohio River last year, which was caused by a hydraulic failure at a lock near Wellsville, Ohio, about 50 miles west of Pittsburgh.

“We simply cannot tolerate a five-day shutdown on a major thoroughfare for American coal, American oil and American steel,” said Trump.

He pointed to federal Department of Transportation figures showing that inland waterways support more than 270,000 jobs and $30.9 million in economic activity, and that the inland waterway system requires $8.7 billion in maintenance.

Trump added that a single towboat hauling a load of coal is the equivalent of 1,000 trucks hauling that same load on roadways.

“I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans to join together, if that’s possible, in the great rebuilding of America,” the president said.

“Countless American industries, businesses and jobs depend on rivers, runways, roads and rails that are in dire and even desperate condition.”

However, a week later, U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pennsylvania, criticized Trump, noting his budget contains no funding for crucial improvements to dams in Charleroi, Elizabeth and Braddock. The billion-dollar Lower Mon Project received $82 million in federal funding this year.

“We’re in danger of losing vital economic opportunity,” Casey said. “I’m going to fight with everything I have to prevent this ill-advised budget proposal.”

Casey said he is willing to work with the Trump administration if it is willing to make “serious investments to strengthening Pennsylvania’s infrastructure.”

He also discussed his plans to free up more than $100 million for lock and dam projects in the future while making reforms aimed at limiting cost overruns.

To be fair, Trump is not the first president to zero out funding for the Lower Mon Project, according to U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. He said President Barack Obama did likewise, but Congress later set aside money for the project.

“I’ve been battling for full locks and dams funding for over a decade,” Murphy said.

“We’ve made great strides, and I’m confident Congress will do the right thing and fund this project through to completion.”

Also vowing to support the project is U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, who represents 11 counties, including all of Fayette County and parts of Westmoreland, Washington and Greene counties.

“As Congress moves through the budget and appropriations process, I’ll continue to work with the administration in my capacity as chairman of the House Transportation Committee to highlight the importance of these lock-and-dam restoration projects to western Pennsylvania and our country’s waterways infrastructure,” Shuster said.

Trump’s lack of support for these vital regional waterway projects is disturbing, particularly since he won this area by such a wide margin last year when he campaigned on bringing manufacturing back to this region. Let’s hope that Shuster and Murphy will be able to pull the president to their side. Otherwise, there could be serious problems.

Jeff Hawk, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the risk of failure at a local dam and lock increases as the years go by.

He added that it could take two years to repair, with significant disruption to barge traffic.

In the end, that would certainly be worse than a five-day shutdown on the Ohio River.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.