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Lock 25 expansion to improve barge traffic efficiency along Mississippi River

June 4, 2023   Effingham Daily News

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Thirty years in the making, the $732 million Lock and Dam 25 expansion was celebrated Thursday during a groundbreaking ceremony at the Winfield, Missouri, site.


With the Mississippi River and clear blue sky as a backdrop, a handful of speakers, including Army Corps of Engineers and state officials, as well as a White House adviser, shared how the Lock 25 project will improve efficiency for barge traffic and safety for mariners, enhance the movement of commodities along the inland waterway system and help boost the economy.


“My team understands that the country, the nation, has given us a mission,” said Jose Lopez, project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). “And we take that to heart every single day to make sure we’re moving about this the right way so we get the right product in the right amount of time at the right cost.”


The USACE will spend more than $1.3 billion to upgrade inland waterway systems across Illinois. A majority of those funds — $732 million — will be used to build a new 1,200-foot lock chamber just north of the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers at the 80-plus-year-old Lock 25.


The facelift involves building a second 1,200-foot lock next to the 600-foot one that already exists. The current chamber isn’t large enough for standard, 15-barge tows to travel through without disassembling first, which can take several hours. The disassembly also requires a mariner to be out on a barge deck, putting their safety at risk. With the new, 1,200-foot chamber, a barge can move through without decoupling, and passage will take 45 minutes.


“A main benefit of the new 1,200-foot lock is not only does it make locking faster ... but it provides a redundancy with the 600-foot-lock we already have,” said Amanda (Fisher) Rademacher, project manager, USACE St. Louis District. “So, if we need to do traditional maintenance on one of the lock chambers, one will remain open; we won’t have the closures that we had in the past.”


The design period is expected to last through 2026, with the new lock chamber commissioned by 2034.


Phase one involves mostly preparatory work. Crews will focus on the river side of the existing 600-foot lock wall and make modifications so the structure can receive part of the new 1,200-foot chamber next to it. They also will add floating mooring, kevels, line hooks and other pieces barges require to move through.


“A lot of the complexity is refitting this old structure and making it a modern working structure,” Lopez said, adding the critical component is maintaining the existing barge traffic.


The collaboration between the Corps and industry partners also is key during the design process.


“We all have to come to the table and work together to find that Goldilocks moment — what works for the contractor, what works for the industry and what works for the designers,” he said.


Michael Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, dubbed inland waterways “the jewels of our water resources.”


“Infrastructure in this country is fundamental to competitiveness (in the) global economy,” he said. “It’s worth the reinvestment.”


Illinois Corn Growers Association President Matt Rush said his organization has been advocating for the lock improvements for two decades to improve grain movement efficiencies.


“We’re excited to finally see some progress,” Rush said.


Illinois Farm Bureau District 15 Director Steve Koeller remembers barge traffic flow improving after the Lock and Dam 26 replacement about 30 years ago. It was later renamed Melvin Price Locks and Dam, which is located near Alton.


“This has been a long time coming,” said Koeller, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat in Godfrey.


Mitch Landrieu, senior adviser to the president and White House infrastructure coordinator, said as the former New Orleans mayor he learned many lessons following Hurricane Katrina.


“When it hit, that was an infrastructure failure,” he said, adding the biggest lesson was how important it is to “get it right.”


“This particular body of water is a massive life-giving force; it gives us life, it gives us sustenance, it creates jobs for us, but it can also be a life-taking force.


“She will not be controlled, but she can be managed. And when you think about it, that’s the awesome responsibility that the Corps has had for a very, very long time.”


The Lock 25 project is just a piece of the overall federal infrastructure plan by the Biden administration, he said.


“You’re coordinating and focusing on not just building for purposes of navigation, which is critically important, but we’re also building for resilience, we’re building for restoring the ecosystem.”