Calls for replacement of locks on upper Ohio

Total activity up 12.5%

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission (PPC) announced that river activity in the Port District increased 12.5% during 2005, including an almost 20% increase in coal and coke shipped on the three rivers. The increase returns the Port to levels not seen since 2002, which was a record year for Port activity.

Reports were drawn from the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Lock Performance Monitoring System (LPMS), which provides up-to-the-day traffic data that can be quickly and closely examined to reveal trend information.

Two thousand and five was the first year in which the Port Commission used the LPMS system track river traffic. LPMS is a measure of tonnage that moves through each lock. The PPC previously relied only on the Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center system, a measure of barge traffic movement from dock to dock. The WCS data is more accurate, but frequently lags by a year or more.

According to James R. McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, ‘The 2005 increase is heartening, demonstrating that the river activity has begun to return to the high level of the first part of this decade, much of which we attribute to a strengthening economy and increase coal traffic. The outlook for the coming year is even better.’

He noted that Pittsburgh seam coal is becoming much more valuable as electric utilities install scrubbers and as coal degasification plants are built in the region, as anticipated. There also has been a temporary increase in Western coal passing through the Port District. The total number of locked barges (loaded and unloaded) increased to 184,011 in 2005 from 165,632 in 2004.

Activity at several key locks was mixed over the year. Activity on the Ohio and Lower Monongahela was generally up, with Mon 4 traffic increasing 24 percent over 2004. Lock 5 on the Allegheny River, however, how a significant drop in activity ’ 82 percent ’ attributed to a drastic reduction in sand and gravel moving beyond Lock 4, due to reduced activity in that sector.

The busiest lock on the waterways is Montgomery on the Ohio, through which 23.1 million tons passed. ‘This gives us more reason to be concerned about the aging locks and dams in the region, particularly Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery, (EDM) which are between 70 and 87 years old,’ stated McCarville. ‘A modest $3 million for each of the next three years has been requested to study these three locks and dams, but was not included in the budget.’

The USACE is currently undertaking a $15-million project at Emsworth this year ’ money that may not have been required to be spent had the EDM study been funded in a more timely manner, he noted. The PPC and local industry groups are asking Congress to increase that to $25-million for FY07

‘Given how long it takes to complete these projects, if we don’t complete these studies soon, the region may have to depend upon these structures until 2035, when some of them will be 115 years old,’ said McCarville. He pointed out that they are also the smallest locks on the Ohio River creating a bottleneck, restricting growth in southwestern Pennsylvania. ‘This is a classic example of ‘penny-wise, but pound-foolish,’ he concluded.