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 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.

Major Rehabilitation

The Emsworth locks have been operational since 1922 while the original dams were rebuilt into gated structures and have been operational since 1938. The 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 in the early 1980s and 1990s at Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams. 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 substantial 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 corrected in part while others were left untouched because repairs were found to be non-feasible. Others were left uncorrected because they were not considered critical. For example, deteriorated concrete was left in place and mostly covered over instead of being removed. While the top surface of the lock walls appears to be in good condition, most of the problems are on the lock walls' interiors that existed before the major rehabilitation. The 25-year time period for the major rehabilitation for Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams ended in 2010, 2015 and 2014, respectively. 


Project Status

The new lock chamber at Montgomery Locks and Dam was fully funded as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act 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, and additional preparatory contracts are planned for 2023, with an award for the new lock chamber construction contract scheduled to occur in 2024. These dates are tentative and may change as the project develops.

Upper Ohio River Navigation Documents

Upper Ohio Navigation Study FEIS Appendices

Cultural Resources  Cumulative Effects Invasive Species Correspondence  Two Lock Modernization Analysis  
Economic Updates DEIS Public Review Comments & Responses Larval Fish Survey  
ETA Document ED1 (Emsworth)            Ecosystem Restoration Study  Mussel Survey   
ETA Document ED1(Dashield) Endangered Species Act Correspondence Prior Ohio River Environmental Reports   
ETA Document (General Engineering) Environmental Justice Upland Work Area Surveys   
Benthic Substrate Surveys   Fish and Wildlife Mitigation, Monitoring and Adaptive Management USFWS ORMSS 2(b) Coordination Act Report 2009         
Clean Air Act Update      Fish Passage Study    USFWS Upper Ohio Planning Aid Report Update        
 Clean Water Act Section 404  Hydro-acoustic Survey ORMSS Report