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TRVA Meeting Includes WRDA, Kentucky, Chickamauga Updates

October 20, 2023   The Waterways Journal

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The 57th annual Tennessee River Valley Association and Tennessee-Cumberland Waterways Council meeting October 9-10 in Franklin, Tenn., included an update on projects along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers as well as a comprehensive look at available federal funding and needs.


The association’s board voted at the meeting to support the request of Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) for the upcoming 2024 Water Resources Development Act. WCI is asking for 100 percent federal funding to be provided for all seven major construction and rehabilitation projects originally believed to be funded to completion by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Updated certified cost analyses at these projects found that inflation pressures had greatly increased their costs in many cases.


“We definitely expected some discrepancy on the numbers, but we didn’t expect it to be as high as it ended up being,” Dustin Davidson, WCI’s director of government relations, told those gathered for the TRVA meeting.


Without that funding agreement, Davidson said those projects could stretch out for many years longer than anticipated, given estimates of the funding available in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) each year.


WRDA negotiations in the Senate will begin earlier than normal this year, Davidson said, and the deadline for members’ requests for inclusion in the bill is October 13. Davidson said a draft could be available as early as January.

Davidson also provided information about IIJA funding, noting that of the $2.5 billion allocated for inland waterways construction projects, $113.5 million remains unspent. However, that is not enough to meet the increased costs for the funded projects.

The Continuing Resolution (CR) under which Congress is operating until November does not allow for additional funding for any projects as the inland waterways received no money in the president’s budget.


Davidson said it is possible that instead of passing a spending plan, Congress could pass another CR in November, which might last until spring. However, he said it is possible for Congress to come together and provide fiscal year 2024 funding. If so, we can expect significant work to be done throughout the system, given the number of inland waterways project funding requests and the wide bipartisan support for the inland waterways industry.

Chickamauga Lock Replacement Update

The Kentucky Lock Addition Project and the Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project, both on the Tennessee River, are among those projects that have faced major cost increases in recent years.


TRVA Executive Director Cline Jones said a well-maintained, modern system of locks and dams along the Tennessee River is essential not just for navigation but also to promote national security. He pointed out that United Launch Alliance’s next generation Vulcan Centaur rockets must be transported through the locks on the Tennessee River to get from their fabrication site in Decatur, Ala., to where they are launched in Cape Canaveral, Fla.


While the Atlas V and Delta IV programs typically moved about eight rockets a year, the Vulcan program is expected to increase that to more than a dozen annually, he said.


Capt. Joseph Cotton, the Nashville Engineer District’s project manager for the Chickamauga project, gave a brief update on it, beginning by saying, “We’re really getting to the point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”


Continued degradation of the existing lock at Tennessee River Mile 471 is necessitating the replacement. The new 110- by 600-foot lock will pass nine barges per lockage as opposed to the existing 60- by 360-foot lock’s one barge per lockage. As a result, replacing it could reduce commercial transit times by 80 percent, the Corps has estimated.


The first construction funding for the project was received in fiscal year 2002. The Corps’ latest projections call for the new lock to be operational in November 2026 and for the project as a whole to be complete in September 2028. However, Cotton cautioned that funding issues or delays with existing contractors could impact that schedule.


Cotton said because of funding already on hand, he anticipates no impacts to the construction schedule by the government operating under a CR for spending.


Already, he said, 200,000 cubic yards of concrete of the 250,000 that will be used in construction have already been placed. By the end of December, he expects 12 of the 36 concrete monoliths to be complete. As a result, he said, the team’s focus is beginning to shift from concrete placement to electrical and utility work.


The lock chamber contract, being completed by Shimmick Construction Company, is due to be complete in September 2025. The upstream approach wall contract, awarded to C.J. Mahan Construction LLC, has fully ramped up and is expected to be complete in January 2025.


A final contract for the approach wall and decommissioning is on schedule to be awarded in September 2024, pending funding availability. The anticipated cost of $236.8 million requested by earmark would need to be received in the next three to four months to allow the full contract award and mobilization of the contractor on time, he said.


“Really this time next year it’s going to be a very, very different picture,” Cotton said.

The total project cost, as of October 2022, is $954 million. With $441 million expended through September of this year, the project is 46 percent complete.

Kentucky Lock Addition Update

Robert Winters, the Nashville Engineer District’s project manager for the Kentucky Lock Addition Project, provided an update on that project.


The Kentucky Lock Addition Project includes the design and construction of a 110- by 1,200-foot navigation lock landward of the existing 110- by 600-foot lock, located at Tennessee River Mile 22.4 in Gilbertsville, Ky. The facility is owned by TVA, but the Corps of Engineers operates and maintains the locks.


Work at the decades-long project is divided into multiple contracts. The upstream cofferdam was completed as one of those contracts in 2006. Downstream lock excavation was completed as part of another contract in October 2022. Highway and utility relocations were also necessary, as U.S. 62 formerly ran across the top of the dam, along with a railroad and utility lines.


The downstream lock monolith contract, won by Thalle Construction Company, is ongoing and is not expected to close out until May 2027. Its scope includes final excavation and approximately 375,000 cubic yards of concrete placement. Thalle placed 11,191 cubic yards of concrete in September, and miter gate fabrication is approximately 44 percent complete. Winters also noted that Thalle has achieved 500,000 exposure hours, or 654 days, without a lost time mishap.


Pending funding availability, an operational contract is due to be awarded in fiscal year 2025. The Corps’ current estimate to complete the new lock is September 2030. The total estimated cost, as of fiscal year 2022, is $1,561,073,000. As of August 31, $704,529,157 had been expended, meaning the project is 45 percent complete.


Cotton and Winters said the Corps is completing a cost estimate annually to capture any market changes that could affect project costs, although it will not go through the full process to have it certified every year.


Supervisory Navigation Facilities Manager Caleb Skinner said eight to nine hours of delays at Kentucky Lock have been common recently. The addition of the second lock should virtually eliminate delays, he said.

Channel Maintenance

Megan Simpson, chief of the maintenance section for the Nashville Engineer District, spoke about accomplishments this year along with maintenance planned for next year.


In fiscal year 2023, dredging locations included the Cumberland River at Mile 88 (Dover) and Miles 102-104 (Cumberland City). Additionally, a valve stem was replaced at the Guntersville Lock and an auxiliary valve at Pickwick Lock.


For the next year, one major project involves lift gate repairs at Barkley Lock from November 2023 through August 2024. This project will not involve closure or impacts to navigation, however, Simpson said. However, strut gate arm replacement at Barkley Lock will involve two phases of closures, currently scheduled from February 19 to March 7 and November 11, 2024 through December 2, 2024.

Old Hickory Lock is scheduled to be dewatered from March 18 to May 9.


Boom wall cable replacement is scheduled to take place from January 22 through February 15 next year, with the closure type still under discussion.


Dredging is scheduled for Tennessee Mile 155 (Beech Creek), with the exact timing to be determined but generally in the September or October timeframe next year, Simpson said.


An upcoming industry meeting, scheduled for November 8, will allow fine-tuning of the schedule, which may be adjusted, she said.

Other presentations at the TRVA meeting included updates from the Tennessee Valley Authority regarding plans for replacing the sunken guidewall at Wilson Lock and Dam on the Tennessee River near Florence, Ala.; the U.S. Coast Guard regarding cybersecurity and bomb threats; Vanderbilt University regarding recent decarbonization studies and movements being made toward environmental sustainability; and the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development, with a general overview.


Caption for photo: Construction progress at Chickamauga Lock as of September. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)