Locks and Dams

Stakeholders Concerned About Future Illinois Waterway Closures

Locks and dams on the Illinois Waterway system are due for major repairs and replacements beginning in 2020 that will shut down the system for extended periods, and stakeholders that rely on the crucial waterway are worried.

The Executive Committee of the Upper Mississippi Waterways Association (UMWA) met May 17 to discuss plans by the Corps of Engineers to close down the Illinois River in 2020, and again in 2023, in order to put in necessary repairs and replacements on several locks in the system.

The Illinois Waterway Project, as laid out by the Corps in August 2017 in a series of documents, calls for the prolonged closure of six locks in 2020, including a 120-day closure for LaGrange; a 60-day closure of Peoria for inspection and to install a new bubbler system; a 120-day closure of Starved Rock to install four new miter gates plus a new sill and anchorages; a 90-day closure of Marseilles to install two new miter gates plus sill and anchorages; and up to 120 days of restrictions at both Dresden Island and Brandon Road to prepare both sites for 2023 repairs.

In 2023, the tentative plan calls for additional 90-day closures of the last two locks to install two new miter gates plus sill and anchorages.

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The programs are yet to be funded and the schedule could change, the Corps has said. The Corps notes that it takes 2.5 years to fabricate a miter gate from the time of a contract award. The LaGrange Major Rehab will need about 18 months from the time of award until the closure duration starts for fabrication and procurement.

But the Corps added, “We have met current contract award schedules and are on track for meeting future scheduled contract awards and will meet lead times and 2020 closure timelines, pending FY18 and FY19 funding.”

In a “summary of assumptions,” the Corps said its preferred closure time is between July 1 and October 31, a period that includes the height of harvest season when the waterway is typically heavily used for grain shipments.

The other assumptions on which the tentative timeline depends include favorable weather, “a feasible and suitable design solution for the placement of bulkhead recesses in the vicinity of the old emergency gates,” and minimal effects of weather or emergency situations.

The Corps said that “after LaGrange Major Rehabilitation is complete, there is no need for additional closures in the near term.”