Upper Ohio Navigation Project

The Upper Ohio Navigation Project is part of the National Economic Development (NED) plan for improving the upper Ohio River navigation system, specifically the EmsworthDashields and Montgomery locks and dams. Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery, each constructed prior to 1936, are the first three locks and dams on the Ohio River downstream of the Point of Pittsburgh. These facilities have the oldest and smallest lock chambers in the entire Ohio River Navigation System. The project replaces each auxiliary lock chamber (56’ wide by 360’ long) with a new lock chamber (110’ by 600’) at each facility. This new lock chamber would serve as the new main lock chamber.

The fully-funded, total project cost for all three new chambers is $2.1 billion, which would be cost-shared jointly by the General Fund (65%) and the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (35%) (2021 Cost Level). The project’s incremental benefit-to-cost ratio is 2.4 to 1 (at the current discount rate of 2.75%).

The new lock chamber at Montgomery Locks and Dam received significant funding as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment Bill of 2021. The design of the new lock chamber at Montgomery is underway. The first preparatory construction contract for Montgomery lock was awarded in 2020. Additional preparatory contracts are planned for 2023, with the award of the new lock chamber construction contract scheduled to occur in 2024.

Congress authorized the Upper Ohio Navigation Project in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016 (P.L. 114-322).

The primary driving factors supporting the upper Ohio River navigation system project were the poor structural condition and inadequate lock capacity for modern navigation tows. The Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams have been in operation since construction in the 1920s and 1930s and are nearing the end of their service life. Built prior to air-entrained concrete, all three structures experience structural condition fatigue of the concrete causing unreliable structural capacity of the lock walls. The structures also meet modern design criteria.

Additionally, the lock chamber sizes (110’ x 600’ main chamber and 56’ x 360’ auxiliary chamber) are now well below the size required to accommodate the larger, more powerful modern tows that lock through the 110’ x 1200’ locks on the lower Ohio River. Many tows must “double-lock” through the upper Ohio River locks’ main chambers, which consumes additional time and causes additional wear and tear on both the lock structure and operating machinery. These undersized lock chambers increase economic inefficiencies and therefore increase consumer costs.

The Emsworth locks have been operational since 1922 while the original dams were rebuilt into gated structures and have been operational since 1938. Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams have been in operation since 1929 and 1936, respectively. The condition challenges at these facilities were temporarily addressed during major rehabilitations Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams undertaken in the 1980s and early 1990s. These efforts were intended as stop-gap measures designed to extend the useful life of the structures for an additional 25 years. Given the effects of weathering and age of the facilities, there were concerns over their continued reliability. Anchoring and other temporary solutions were implemented to extend their life until more permanent repairs could be evaluated and implemented. The rehabilitation initiatives were limited in scope and were guided by expediency, considering lock closure time constraints, costs, and feasibility.

Many known issues were only corrected in part; others were left untouched because repairs were found to be non-feasible, and others similarly were left uncorrected because they were considered not critical. As an example, deteriorated concrete was left in place instead of being removed and was mostly covered over. Thus, while the top surface of the lock walls, appears in good condition, hidden below that surface are most of the problems that existed before the major rehabilitation. It is further noted that the 25-year period of the major rehabilitation for Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery ended in 2010, 2015 and 2014, respectively.

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