Back in March, the Post-Gazette ran a four-part series on the troubling state of the region's 23 locks and dams, some of the oldest in the nation. A subsequent editorial further sounded the alarm for what appears to be a catastrophe waiting to happen.
But as the system vital to the Pittsburgh area economy continues to deteriorate, the alarm hasn't instilled a sense of urgency in Congress to act. Infrastructure isn't politically compelling until it fails.
At least some leaders get it. On Friday, Pennsylvania's Democratic Sen. Bob Casey stood aboard a Gateway Clipper Fleet vessel to make a pitch for funding the rehabilitation of locks and dams in Western Pennsylvania. He was joined by business leaders and representatives of the river transportation industry.
Mr. Casey cited a study that shows 220,000 jobs in the region depend on river transportation, nearly 17 percent of the region's work force. They include 15,000 waterway transportation jobs, 30,000 manufacturing jobs and 175,000 indirect jobs.
Specifically, Mr. Casey wants Congress to pass the expenditures on locks and dams that are part of President Barack Obama's budget -- $36.6 million for upgrading locks and dams on the Monongahela River and $20.4 million for the Allegheny. He has sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking for "robust funding" for these projects.
With budget cutting a political imperative and the Obama administration's budget a prime target of Republicans, it would be the worst sort of false economy to think this is an area where savings can be made. The requested expenditures are a tiny fraction of the federal budget but could be the difference between river traffic continuing to benefit the region or shutting down due to a system failure.
If the warnings are ignored and catastrophe does come, the public will know whom to blame -- and it won't be Sen. Casey.opinion_editorials
First Published April 25, 2012 12:00 AM