The need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure continues to garner bipartisan support in Washington, D.C., and the Pittsburgh region stands to benefit from recently passed legislation.
Earlier this month, Congress passed a multibillion-dollar infrastructure-funding package — the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act — which will make critical investments to maintain and improve our nation’s ailing waterways infrastructure. This legislation will have a major positive impact in southwestern Pennsylvania due to the importance that inland waterways and river navigation have on our region’s economy and quality of life. Indeed, from businesspeople to boaters to consumers, we are all affected by the stability of this system.
As is stands today, our waterways infrastructure is in a dangerous state of disrepair. The Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams that form the head of the Ohio River Navigation System are between 70 and 90 years old. They are long overdue for repairs.
What would happen if the EDM locks and dams failed? According to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers analysis, a structural failure “would be ruinous to the navigation industry and users dependent on the river system, and rerouting of bulk commodities to road and rail would adversely affect that infrastructure.”
The analysis also pointed to environmental and quality-of-life impacts that a failure would have on water quality, water supply and recreation, including harmful flooding. In total, failure of the EDM locks and dams could cost our region $430 million per site each year, or $1.29 billion annually.
Thankfully, we can now look toward a future where failure of our locks and dams is a lot less likely. The WIIN Act authorizes 30 new corps of engineers projects, including investments of $2.7 billion over 20 years on the Upper Ohio River.
The Upper Ohio River navigation project is a key regional priority that will ensure reliable movement of goods that our region’s economy, including energy and manufacturing industries, depend upon. The investments in the Upper Ohio will help stave off devastating effects to our recreational uses of the river, drinking water and water quality.
The WIIN Act and the Upper Ohio River navigation project would not have been possible without bipartisan support from our entire southwestern Pennsylvania congressional delegation, including Democratic Sen. Bob Casey; Republican Sen. Pat Toomey; House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Bedford; and Reps . Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley; Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair; Mike Kelly, R-Butler; and Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills. Additionally, our partners at the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, who helped bring this issue to the forefront, and the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition were integral to getting this done.
The WIIN Act comes on the heels of last year’s passage of the FAST Act — a $305 billion infusion of federal investment over five years into our nation’s roads, bridges, highways, rail and transit systems. The FAST Act is supplementing state-level transportation infrastructure funding that came as a result of the 2013 passage of Act 89 — the $2.4 billion Pennsylvania transportation-investment package. These three acts at the federal and state levels are advancing connectivity in southwestern Pennsylvania to improve our region’s economy, quality of life and competitive standing in a global marketplace.
As we look toward the future, we remain hopeful that the need for infrastructure investment remains a bipartisan issue in Washington, D.C. The foundation has been built, and it’s incumbent on organizations like ours to continue advocacy on this vital regional priority, including appropriating investment next year on the waterways project. At the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, we stand ready to work with all sides to continue to improve our national and regional infrastructure. These investments will help to make southwestern Pennsylvania an even better place to live, work and play.
Matt Smith is president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.
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