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Lock Repairs Backing Up River Traffic On Ohio River

August 3, 1986

SHIPPINGPORT, Pa. (AP) _ Repair work on a lock on the Ohio River is creating huge traffic jams that mean delays of almost two days for barges.

The jams at the Montgomery Locks and Dam between Shippingport and Aliquippa in Beaver County are ″the worst we have ever seen,″ said Dave Kreutzer, president of the Pittsburgh Waterways Association.

The problem began July 7, when the dam’s large lock was closed for the latest phase of a $27 million rehabilitation. It is to reopen Aug. 21.

While 200 craftsmen work around the clock on the big lock, which is 110 feet wide and 600 feet long, river traffic is diverted through a parallel lock that is about half the size.

Towboat operators can squeeze only one jumbo barge through at a time because that’s all the small lock can hold. Each locking cycle takes about 30 minutes. Adding to the problem is the time needed to unfasten each barge from the rest of its tow and then reconnect them.

″If the big lock was open, I could move all six barges through at once, and river traffic would probably be normal, so there would be no wait,″ said Terry Mick, who hauls coal down the Ohio River and brings back barges of sand to Pittsburgh.

At noon Friday, 10 barges were lined up below the Montgomery Locks, about 32 miles west of Pittsburgh. Eight were waiting above it and others were en route. The average waiting time to pass through was 40 hours.

Kreutzer, who also is general manager of the river division for Consolidation Coal Co., said the firm loses more than $1 a ton because of the delays.

He said it now takes five days instead of one to ship coal from docks in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania to the Duquesne Light Co. Mansfield Power Station in Shippingport, two miles downstream from the Montgomery Locks.

″You can see the steam from the power plant from here,″ Kreutzer said while standing on the locks. ″But it takes two extra days to get there and two extra days to get back. At $135 an hour (for crew and fuel), it adds up fast.″

Kreutzer said the problem at the 54-year-old Montgomery Dam typifies the deteriorating conditions of other aging locks and dams on the Monongahela, Allegheny and upper Ohio rivers.

Even if the federal government agrees to rehabilitate all existing locks and dams, which could take a decade and $300 million, the river industry still faces problems because of the various sizes of lock chambers, he said.

″Many of these are 50- to 60-year-old structures,″ said George Cingle Jr., planning chief for the Pittsburgh district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. ″Their capacity is limited and many of them are structurally obsolete. It’s like rehabilitating an old bridge instead of building a new one that has more lanes and more capacity.″

Cingle said the average cost of building a new lock is between $200 million and $250 million.