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America's Aging Infrastructure: Waterways Face Critical Juncture

More than a million tons of commodities normally pass through the lock on the Monongahela River in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, every month. But on a recent day, the giant steel gates that hold back the river didn't budge.

America's Aging Infrastructure: Waterways Face Critical Juncture

The 85-year-old structure is undergoing a long-delayed $2.7bn makeover, and the lock is closed to river traffic during the week. But it was bustling as crews worked to build a bigger lock chamber. Seven cranes stretched across its length. A diver in a wetsuit slipped into the river to inspect an underwater wall.

“Progress is a good thing to see,” said Paul Meininger, the 68-year-old lockmaster in charge of the 24/7 operations at the Charleroi Locks and Dam.

The construction south of Pittsburgh is one of several major projects across the U.S. aimed at improving the nation’s vital waterways network of dams and locks that make commercial river traffic possible, enabling more than $70bn worth of cargo to be shipped annually, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An example of the looming threats from the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the often unseen system of more than 230 locks along 12,000 miles of river is at risk of failing in places like Pittsburgh from decades of underinvestment.

The Lower Monongahela River Project in southwest Pennsylvania will upgrade locks near the towns of Charleroi and Braddock and remove a third lock in Elizabeth that was built 110 years ago. The system of dams and locks were first put in place to ensure that the entire length of the river was deep enough for boats to traverse it year-round.

President Donald Trump has promised $1tr worth of investments in the country’s infrastructure, but his proposed 2018 budget didn’t include funding for the Monongahela River locks project.

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