Budget bill doubles funding for Chickamauga lock replacement work

Chattanooga Times/Free Press

March 22–This story was updated March 22, 2018, at 11:03 p.m. with more information.

The $1.3 trillion spending plan for the rest of fiscal 2018 budget will more than double funding for work on the new Chickamauga lock this year.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for recommending funding levels for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the government funding bill will pay for all planned construction of the new lock work this year in Chattanooga. The budget plan, which was approved Thursday by the U.S. House and is expected to win approval of the U.S. Senate today or Saturday, provides another $78 million for ongoing work on the new Chickamauga lock.

The new lock will replace the smaller and crumbling existing lock first opened in 1940.

The budget plan provides a record $6.8 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for building most locks and dams on America’s inland waterways.

“More U.S. senators ask to increase funding for the Army Corps of Engineers than any other part of the budget, so I am very glad we were able to provide record funding this year,” Alexander said in a statement Thursday. “This is great news for East Tennessee since the new lock (at the Chickamauga Dam) will help keep up to 150,000 trucks off I-75 and keep the cost of shipping goods low for manufacturers across the state.”

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, cited the Chickamauga Lock in his statement of support for the budget plan.

“The Chickamauga Lock is a vital piece of infrastructure that supplies jobs and supports the East Tennessee economy,” Fleischmann said after voting for the new budget measure. “This bill will fully fund this project, and marks another milestone toward the timely completion of the Lock.”

The Corps of Engineers has already spent more than $200 million over the past 11 years to design and start building the new Chickamauga lock. But as work has been delayed by budget shortfalls over the past decade, the cost of the new lock has more than doubled to $850 million even as the use of the lock has declined from its peak, limiting the benefit-to-cost ratio below what the U.S. Office of Management and Budget prefers for such projects.

Alexander said the Corps budget for lock and dam projects was aided by the increase four years ago in the fuel taxes paid by barge operators and by increased matching taxpayer funds into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

The bill also provides $1.7 million for dredging at Memphis Harbor McKellar Lake as part of $1.4 billion for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

The Waterways Council, Inc., which represents the barge industry, said the new budget is 36 percent more than what the White House requested. Michael J. Toohey, president of the trade association, said the higher spending level will allow the Corp “to continue its critical work on construction of four priority navigation projects across the inland waterways transportation system.

“We hope there will be quick passage in the Senate and then the President will sign the bill into law,” Toohey said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.