Aging Infrastructure on the Illinois Waterway

The Illinois River is an integral part of the nation’s inland waterway system, moving goods from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. From agriculture to mining to manufacturing, a range of industries rely on the ability to move their goods efficiently and reliably via barge traffic. The Illinois Waterway handled over 24 million tons of cargo across the eight locks and seven pools of water between each lock and dam during 2014.

But with aging infrastructure and a backlog of deferred maintenance, improving the conditions of Illinois’ waterways is “imperative,” according to the Illinois River Economic Impact and Cluster Analysis Report, released by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Foundation last August. Improvements to the eight locks and dams on the Illinois River would positively impact business and industry in the 22 counties along the river system.

Like the other seven locks on the Illinois River, the Peoria Lock and Dam has a standard 600-foot-long chamber, and therein lies the problem. Today's modern barge tows require 1,200-foot-long chambers for the greatest efficiency, as most must be decoupled and locked through separately in multiple operations within 600-foot chambers.

“This operation doubles and triples lockage times, increasing costs and wear to lock machinery and equipment, and exposes deckhands and other maritime crew to higher accident rates,” according to the report, which considers the potential impacts of new investments in the waterway. “Where the funding could come from is an open question not resolved by this study.”

Seven lock and dam upgrades in west-central Illinois appeared on a priority list of infrastructure projects compiled by President Trump’s transition team earlier this year. An upgrade of the Illinois River locks at La Grange and Peoria was the 38th project on the list, with an estimated cost of $640 million and 650 jobs.

To download and review the report in its entirety, visit the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Infrastructure Council page at ilchamber.org/policy-councils/infrastructure. iBi

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