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Organizational Member Spotlight: Port of Pittsburgh Commission

 Port of Pittsburgh River   

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission (PPC) is an agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which promotes the commercial utilization of the inland waterways within southwestern Pennsylvania, ultimately for the betterment of the region’s economy. It gives a collective voice to the more than 200 independently owned river terminal and barge line operations that operate in the 200 miles of navigable waterways that comprise the port district.

The PPC is part of a unique cooperative network of industry, state government, and federal regulatory agencies which include the US Coast Guard and the USACE. 

Because the PPC does not own or operate any port facilities, it is not in competition with private industry and can advocate for port concerns that uniformly benefit all waterway users.  It does this by striving to leverage federal funding for waterway infrastructure improvements (namely, locks and dams), and by fostering the development of new technologies that enhance the efficiency of waterway transport.

The inland waterways face two major issues which the PPC is currently attacking:

Port of Pittsburgh Floating Dam   

The aging inland waterway infrastructure is continuing to decay faster than the federal government has been able or willing to fix it.  Specifically, in the Pittsburgh port district, the authorized Lower Monongahela project to replace two dams and a set of locks, and eliminate one dam is a ten-year project going on forty. 

The three sets of locks on the Ohio River within the port district are not only old, but are undersized compared to the rest of Ohio River system and are a bottleneck to efficient traffic flow.  The PPC is working with the Waterways Council, Inc. and the rest of the industry to develop a comprehensive capital improvement plan.


At the same time, the PPC is looking at non-structural ways of improving transport efficiency.  This is not in lieu of the fixing the locks and dams, but as a means of further modernizing waterway transportation.  Early on the PPC recognized that no single entity was looking at the inland waterways as an integrated system, and focused its efforts on encouraging the interaction of the separate entities (industry, government, educational institutions, and member organizations) that must be involved in this process.  With the assistance of Carnegie Mellon University and the USACE, the PPC initiated the development of SmartLock, a GPS-guided virtual navigation tool for entering locks during periods of obscured visibility due to fog.

Port of Pittsburgh Wireless   

It then went on to develop a communications architecture of the waterways which became the backbone of the current project: a wireless broadband network specifically designed to address the challenging topography of the river valleys, starting with a test bed and pilot network in Pittsburgh. 

We hope to eventually be able to extend this network throughout the entire Inland Waterway System, bringing business class-communications and applications to the waterway transportation industry.


Article by: Mike Brinza, Port of Pittsburgh Commission

For more information, visit the Port of Pittsburgh Commission’s WebsiteFacebook and Blog.