PITTSBURGH – The newest navigation lock on the Monongahela River is massive. It can fit nine barges and hold 20 million gallons of water, and it is now finally empty.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District pumped out so much water from the chamber that it could fill 30 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Put another way, that amount of water could stage five sea battles inside the Roman Colosseum, which required four million gallons of water to reach a depth of five feet for their famed water battles, according to tribunesandtriumphs.org.
Emptying the chamber is called dewatering, a process of pumping the water back into the Monongahela River.
“Dewatering the riverside lock chamber is a major turning point in the ongoing construction,” said Kirk McWilliams, the resident engineer with the Pittsburgh District who has been supervising construction at Charleroi Locks and Dam since the beginning.
Construction at Charleroi began in 2004. Once finished, the Charleroi project will cost approximately $1 billion, completed over a span of 20 years, expected to finish by 2024. The federal government funds half of the project’s cost, while the other half is covered by navigation industry through taxes paid on diesel fuel.
McWilliams said this construction is part of the much larger Lower Mon Project, which is considered the number one inland navigation priority in the country right now by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“I think the navigation industry will be ecstatic,” said McWilliams of the project once finished.
This is significant for the region since both the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers are critical to continental navigation.
“We’re the headwaters district. That means we’re the headwaters of the whole inland distribution system all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s very important,” said Shawn Soltis, field engineer at Charleroi.
McWilliams compared this project to motorists finally being able to enjoy a new road or bridge after dealing with years of orange barrels, narrowed lanes, and construction crews.
“Everybody knows about infrastructure,” McWilliams said. “It’s a very relevant topic right now. When you think about infrastructure, you think about highways and bridges. Maybe you think about sewer and water lines. But most people don’t associate navigation locks with infrastructure, and this is as vital to the nation’s economy as highways and bridges.”
Yet, twenty years of construction is an especially long time for a navigation project of this type, McWilliams said. In comparison, a similar construction at Braddock Locks and Dam took only six years, just 30 miles downstream.
The difference is during the Braddock construction, which completed in 2004, the Army Corps had the benefit of a Continuing Contracts Clause. This clause allowed government agencies to award…