The lack of funding for our nation's inland navigational arteries is reaching a point of crisis. Much of the nation's critical inland navigation infrastructure is crumbling, and not much is being done to resolve the funding shortfall needed to upgrade old locks and dams.
Western Pennsylvania's 23 locks are old and, in some cases, crumbling, officials said. The Dashields lock and dam on the Ohio River has unstable chamber walls that move when vessels pass. At Lock and Dam No. 2 on the Allegheny, large chunks of concrete have fallen off chamber walls, risking vessels and crew. At the 76-year-old Montgomery Lock and Dam on the Ohio, the gates are so old and weak that two gave out in 2005 after loose barges crashed into them, although they are designed to sustain such a hit.
Combine that with continued cuts to federal funding for maintenance and operations, and the region's waterways are not only unreliable for industry, but approaching a "scary" status, officials said.
"We already have double the national average of unscheduled outages, and with cuts to federal funding, we're going to quadruple the national average this year," said Jim McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission. "When you think about it, it's really quite scary."
The issue has far reaching implications for large industries who are based in that region; like US Steel, who relies on the river system to ship high volumes of coal to fuel their production plants. Besides, moving coal on the river keeps costs down, and eliminates the need for large volumes of truck traffic to transport the coal. An even greater impact is on the conumers of electricity throughout the eastern seaboard region. The Pittsburgh district is home to numerous coal fired power plants that supply electricity to large sections of the country. A gradual shut down of the locks and dams in the region, due to a lack of funding, will make just about everyone's power bill go up. That's the last thing we need to help our economy bounce into a recover.
And because there is no viable alternative to producing enough electricity from something else other than coal in that region, at least for the next decade, there is no other alternative than to find a way to fund these locks and dams.