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Army Corps of Engineers gets nearly $1 billion to help shipping on the Mississippi

January 31, 2022   St. Louis Public Radio KWMU

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Close to a billion dollars is coming to the St. Louis region to improve shipping and environmental habitats along the Mississippi River.


The federal funding, allocated in the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year, pays for a new 1,200-foot-long lock at Lock and Dam 25 about an hour north of St. Louis.


“This is a generational opportunity of investments,” said Col. Kevin Golinghorst, who commands the St. Louis district of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the $732 million project.


Having opened in 1939, the current 600-foot lock cannot accommodate modern tow configurations of 15 barges, he said.


“The volume today is much larger than it was designed for in the ‘30s with 20th-century shipping volumes,” Golinghorst said. “They have to break tow, and it takes a longer duration of time, up to 2 to 2.5 hours to do so.”


The new 1,200-foot lock will cut that passage time down to 45 minutes, but time efficiency isn’t the only reason to add another lock at that location, he said.


“There’s a risk for a single lock at that location and other places on the Mississippi River,” Golinghorst said. “We want to remove that single point of failure.”


The improvements would also bolster one of the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly modes of transportation in the country, said Jeff Webb, vice chair of the Waterways Council, a trade organization that advocates for better river infrastructure across the country.


“We need investment in our inland waterways infrastructure to maintain a competitive advantage in the world grain markets,” he said. “More than 60% of U.S. exports travel the Mississippi River.”


In addition to money for the new 1,200-foot lock, Congress allocated $97.1 million to restore a fish passage at Lock and Dam 22 near Hannibal back to what it was like before the lock and dam system was constructed, said Col. Jesse Curry, who commands the Rock Island district of the Corps.


“The benefits of this opportunity is to make our native fish species able to compete with invasive species by increasing the size of their habitat,” he said.


The ecological improvements are vital, said Grafton Mayor Mike Morrow, whose community on the Mississippi relies heavily on tourism.


“We see an increase in visitors to our area,” he said. “Eagle watching, bird migration and increased fishing opportunities, we are very excited about the progress that is coming.”


If successful, both multimillion-dollar projects could serve as blueprints for similar ones at five locks and dams on the Mississippi north of the St. Louis area under the corps Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program.


“Our goal is to deliver rapidly and effectively in a way that continues to boost confidence that we can get started on those other locks and dams shortly after,” Curry said. “That will take additional appropriations from Congress.”