Positive current: Good news comes for region’s locks and dams

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Pittsburgh’s fortunes have been linked since its founding to the rivers that run through it. But the system of locks and dams that keeps the barges running to the benefit of nearly 200,000 regional jobs has been deteriorating for want of much-needed repairs.

But maybe aging locks and dams won’t be allowed to molder into ruin after all. Last week brought encouraging news on the waterways front.

One part was President Barack Obama’s proposed 2015 budget. Although it contains a meager $9 million for continuing long-delayed work on the Monongahela River, which includes eliminating a 107-year-old dam in Elizabeth in danger of collapsing and closing river traffic, the better part of the budget is the $160 million for continuing construction at Olmsted, Ill.

This chronically over-budget but necessary project has sucked funds from Pittsburgh-area projects. In the previous 2014 budget, Olmsted received less money for one year from the user-supported Inland Waterway Trust Fund that finances all projects, freeing up dollars for projects elsewhere. Congress needs to work with the president to make that fix permanent.

Already the money freed up at Olmsted is paying a dividend for the Pittsburgh region. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, announced last Tuesday that the Army Corps of Engineers — in response to a letter he had written — has allocated $74.6 million for the Lower Mon locks and dams project in its fiscal year 2014 work plan, an increase of $72.5 million over the initial allocation. This funding will advance the completion date by three years.

The Post-Gazette praises the entire local congressional delegation for their support but is especially grateful for the work of Sen. Casey and House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Blair. Rivers run through the region; fortunately, its leaders know their value.

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