PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The bad condition of the area’s locks and dams is obvious.
For 21 years, David Boyd — who now captains a tow boat — has seen the problems coming.
“There’s a lot of deterioration going on. Walls are crumbling. Some lock walls you can’t land on because metal plates are sticking out,” Boyd told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.
And if the locks and dams go, says Peter Stephaich, CEO of Campbell Transportation with 40 boats, 500 barges and hundreds of employees, so do they.
“Unlike a road, there is no way to go around the locks and dams,” said Stephaich. “If you lose one of these facilities, you actually sever the artery and can’t go through any more, and therefore have to stop operating.”
Twenty years ago, Congress authorized the replacement of three locks and dams right here with two new modern ones. But under current funding, it won’t be completed until 2027 — 35 years,” said Michael Toohey of the Waterways Council. “That’s absurd.”
Enter U.S. Sen. Bob Casey who has a plan to complete the project in four years and save 200,000 jobs.
“We’ve got to make investments and we’ve got to make sure projects get done sooner, and therefore we’re introducing legislation that will invest more but also hold these projects to a higher standard,” said the Senator.
What makes Casey’s bill to increase funding for lock and dam repair a real possibility is that the barge companies, the industry itself, is willing to increase taxes on themselves to pay for it.
Casey’s bill raises the waterways user fee on diesel fuel for river use from 20 cents a gallon to 29 cents a gallon.
“We understand that these structures cost a lot of money, and costs have gone up, and we do support the increase of the diesel fuel tax,” added Stephaich.
Casey hopes to attract bi-partisan support for his measure which will raise $600 million to $700 million over the next 20 years.
Getting Republicans — who usually oppose tax increases — on board is important.
Barge lines hope that their support for this higher diesel fuel fee on themselves will make a difference.