Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, legislation championed and signed by President Joe Biden, will go toward fulfilling completion of upgrades to the Montgomery Locks and Dam in Monaca, Pennsylvania, a project that costs $857.7 million in total.
The lock and dam is located on the Ohio River, which serves as a vital path for transporting materials and drinking water. There have been longstanding concerns about the integrity of the structure. Previously, local officials said that infrastructure projects related to improving the Lock and Dam were funded in an erratic fashion, leading to delays and uncertainty.
“We can really see this project move now,” Jaime Pinkham, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Mitch Landrieu, White House senior advisor for coordinating implementation of infrastructure policy, visited the locks along with Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) on Aug. 24 to highlight the new federal funding allocated toward it.
Casey talked about the importance the lock and dam serves to the region, stating, “We cannot move commerce, we cannot move commodities unless these locks and dams are repaired.”
The Montgomery Lock and Dam was constructed in the 1930s. It has been forecast that the two locks in the structure have a 50% chance of failure by 2028. There is currently a crack in the structure, situated between two walls of the chambers within the locks, causing water to leak water. Repairs were attempted in the 1980s, but officials have said maintenance is needed.
“If that wall collapses, both chambers would be non-functional and you close the Port of Pittsburgh,” Mary Ann Bucci, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, told the Beaver County Times. Bucci also warned that this would shut down commerce in the Pittsburgh region and affect the availability of drinking water within the area.
An estimated 15 to 20 million tons of commodities are expected to be transported through the locks over the next 50 years. Among companies that rely on transport through the lock and dam, oil corporation Shell has used it to transport materials for their ethane cracker plant operating in Monaca, Penn. Similar projects and people working in those areas would be severely affected by a shutdown.
In his press conference, Landrieu noted that the funds for the locks are just one portion of a much larger package of funds that will be spent on infrastructure across Pennsylvania and the country.
“Right now, just in Pennsylvania alone, $17 billion is heading to the state of Pennsylvania alone for the roads, the bridges, and the airports and the ports and the waterways,” he explained.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which budgets about $1.7 trillion toward projects such as these, was signed into law by President Biden on Nov. 15, 2021. It was supported by a majority of Democrats, and opposed by most Republicans, in the House and Senate. Casey voted for the bill, but Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) opposed it.
Only one Republican representing Pennsylvania in Congress, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, supported the bill.