Locked on success: Congress is poised to help aging locks and dams

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Transportation infrastructure is a bit like the old saw about the weather, often attributed to Mark Twain. Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything -- especially in Pennsylvania, where a transportation funding bill languishes.

But in Pittsburgh, the infrastructure for transportation is more than roads, bridges and transit; it is the aging locks and dams on the rivers that have made this one of the largest inland ports for barge traffic in the United States.

The good news is that the often do-nothing Congress is doing something about it. Last month, the House of Representatives approved the Water Resources Reform Development Act (HR 3080) which could bring help for aging locks and dams, some of the oldest of which are in Western Pennsylvania.

The bill, which passed 417-3, follows a similar Senate plan passed in May. Both recommend funding for the Olmsted locks and dam in Kentucky and Illinois, which has been draining money for other projects. The Senate bill recommends 100 percent federal funding to complete the work, while the House bill has 75 percent federal funding with 25 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, supported by a tax on diesel fuel paid by barge operators.

Both bills open the way to millions of dollars for the Lower Mon project here, the No. 2 priority in the nation. A joint Senate-House committee will try to reconcile the plans and, because the Senate bill would free up more money, a deal closer to its version would be better for Pittsburgh.

Delay will only multiply the final cost of repair. Doing nothing would mean eventually destroying an industry and a big chunk of the economy with it. Members of the House and Senate, who have done a great job in getting this far, need to agree on a final bill. Mark Twain, an old-time riverboat pilot, would have approved.


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