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Wireless Waterways Brings Broadband to Pittsburgh’s Rivers


Barges and other river traffic moving through Pittsburgh might soon be using a broadband wireless network to announce their arrival and keep everyone a little bit safer.

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission (PPC) is developing a first-of-its-kind network that it feels could have uses in busy inland waterways across the country. 

“What it’ll do is not only improve the efficiency of the waterway transportation system, but it’s also going to reduce the cost of collecting data for the Corps of Engineers, for the environmental regulatory community, and for anybody with an interest of collecting data on the waterways,” said PPC executive director James McCarville.

McCarville said the idea for the broadband system came after the commission worked with Carnegie Mellon University to develop SmartLock.

Smartlock is a virtual navigation system that aids boats with limited sight lines as their pilots enter outer lock chambers. It was built to stop ships from hitting the chamber wall, which can damage their hulls.

McCarville said the navigation system has been in the works for a while but couldn’t be rolled out throughout the region without a broadband system in place to transmit the data.

He said most of the current funding for the project is coming from the Department of Homeland Security.

“We estimate to put out a nationwide project it’s in the $10 to $20 million range,” said McCarville. “We would anticipate that we can kick start this again with some federal type grants somewhere along the line, but it is designed to be revenue generating and self supporting.”

The first link in the Wireless Waterways system is already running and connects the Port of Pittsburgh Commission offices with the Emsworth Locks and Dam and the Army Corps of Engineers Repair facility.

McCarville said they plan to expand broadband to two more locks and dams by the end of January, and an additional five by May. 

The system would also be able to advise river traffic of hazardous river conditions and public safety data, while also collecting environmental and industrial data.

The PPC hopes users will find new applications for the wireless system after the test program is fully in place.

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