Monday, August 6, 2018

Lock problems at Montgomery

Steps are being taken to keep commerce flowing on the upper part of the Ohio River before a lock failure forces a complete shutdown of unknown duration.

The Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued this news release Aug. 2:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District awarded a $1.09-million contract recently to C. J. Mahan Construction Company, LLC of Columbus, Ohio to install a temporary repair to the severely cracked and unstable middle-lock wall at the Ohio River’s Montgomery Lock and Dam near Monaca, Pennsylvania.
Engineers calculate that the middle wall, which separates the lock’s two chambers, has a 50-percent chance of failing by 2028 if left unaddressed.
A middle-wall failure would halt navigation on the upper Ohio River, significantly impacting shipments of coal, heating oil, aggregates, road salt and other vital commodities.
The temporary repair is an interim measure meant to slow the wall’s deterioration rate until a permanent fix can be performed. Repairs are anticipated to take approximately 1.5 years.
Temporary lock closures and delays may occur during the work, which is expected to start later this year.
“This vital effort to reduce the risk of failure at Montgomery Lock and Dam will help ensure that we are providing safe and reliable navigation, which greatly contributes to the regional economy,” said Col. Andrew J. Short, commander, Pittsburgh District.
A permanent solution to address conditions at Montgomery is planned as part of the authorized $2.7-billion Upper Ohio Navigation Project. The solution will involve construction of new 110-feet-wide by 600-feet-long lock chambers at each of the first three Ohio River navigation facilities at Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery.
The Upper Ohio Navigation Project is currently in the engineering and design phase while concurrently undergoing an economic re-evaluation of the project benefits.
Barging bulk commodities on the area’s three rivers provides significant benefits to the region. It significantly reduces the wear and tear on roadways, causes considerably less pollution than other modes of transportation and reduces the cost of electricity due to transportation rate savings over truck and rail delivery of coal.
The district’s navigation structures not only provide reliable river commerce, but they create sustained pools that provide water supply for drinking, industrial use, firefighting and other uses. The sustained pools provided by navigation dams also encourage riverfront and economic development within the region.
Pittsburgh District’s 26,000 square miles include portions of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Maryland and southwestern New York. It includes more than 328 miles of navigable waterways, 23 navigation locks and dams, 16 multi-purpose flood control reservoirs, 42 local flood-protection projects and other projects to protect and enhance the nation’s water resources infrastructure and environment.

The Montgomery Locks and Dam is in Pennsylvania at Mile 31.7. It was built in the 1930s.

Unlike at Locks and Dam 52 on the lower Ohio, a lock failure at Montgomery would shut down the entire river to traffic, as there is no navigable pass at Montgomery that boats can use to bypass the locks when the river is running high.

Perhaps someday the Ohio will have all its navigation infrastructure updated and in great shape so more attention can be given to other rivers. Especially to projects where the need is not critical but some upgrades would prevent another situation like that at Montgomery.