The Upper Ohio Navigation Project is part of the National Economic Development (NED) plan for improving the Upper Ohio River navigation system, specifically the Emsworth, Dashields 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 from 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%).
Congress authorized the Upper Ohio Navigation Project in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016 (P.L. 114-322).
Capacity and Condition
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 useful 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. None of the structures meet modern design criteria.
Additionally, the lock chamber sizes (110’ x 600’ main chamber and 56’ x 360’ auxiliary chamber) are now 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 have to “double-lock” through the upper Ohio River locks’ main chambers, which consumes additional time and causes wear-and-tear on both the lock structure and operating machinery. These undersized lock chambers increase economic inefficiencies and therefore increase consumer costs.