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Illinois River barge traffic takes a summer vacation

July 6, 2020   WCBU - Normal, IL

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The closing of the Murray Baker Bridge isn’t the only transportation issue facing central Illinois this summer.


In addition to repairs that will keep the bridge that hosts I-74 closed through October, several lock-and-dam sites on the Illinois River are being repaired.


That means barge traffic on the river will be shut down between July and October.  You might see an increase in truck traffic on area roads in that time, said Eric Miller, executive director of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, headquartered in Downtown Peoria.


“The recreational boater won’t see much of a difference but materials that usually travel up and down the river will have to be transported by truck or rail,” he said.


Ray Lees, Tri-County’s planning program manager, said one barge equals 1,750 tons of dry cargo, an amount that would take 16 rail cars or 70 trucks to transport.


“You can see how that translates into wear and tear on the highways if the freight typically shipped by barge is now handled by other transportation modes,” he said.


Allen Marshall, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the temporary closure won’t come as a surprise to shippers that use the river.


“Coordination efforts with industry started three to four years ago. We wanted to give them time to plan other transportation avenues,” he said.


In addition to repair work on the Peoria lock and dam, repairs will also be made on the Starved Rock lock and dam, some 60 miles north of Peoria, and LaGrange lock and dam, 90 miles to the south.


“The impact on boaters will be that (for four months) you won’t be able to go from pool to pool,” said Marshall, indicating that “pools” is the Corps term for the river sections between lock and dam sites.


Work on the lock and dam sites won’t have any impact on river levels, he added.


Interruptions to Illinois River barge traffic aren’t anything new, said Miller, noting that flood conditions forced barges off the river for six weeks last year.


Aside from the long-awaited lock and dam repairs, the Army Corps of Engineers has expressed interest in other projects on the Illinois River, said Lees.


“They just talked to us about two more (man-made) islands south of the McClugage Bridge,” he said.


Lees said Tri-County’s position was that an analysis of how the first man-made island north of the McClugage begun in 2009 has performed should be completed first.


That effort, dredging the river to build a 24-acre island was designed to establish a sanctuary for birds as well as allowing for a deep water fish habitat, needed to support aquatic life in a river that becomes shallower every year.


The maintenance schedule on area lock and dam sites with the specific times sites will be closed is as follows:


--Peoria lock and dam (July 6 to Sept. 30)

--Starved Rock lock and dam (July 1 to Oct. 29)

--LaGrange lock and dam (July 1 to Sept. 30)

--Marseilles lock and dam (July 6 to Oct. 29)