If all goes according to plan, barging between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River will be a lot more complicated from June until the end of September.
Just like in 2019 and 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers has closed the Illinois Waterway for 120 days to perform much-needed repairs to three lock and dam sites along the river system.
The Corps’ Rock Island District crafted a consolidated repair schedule to lesson disruption to commercial navigation. This included a short closure to locks in 2019 followed by longer closures in 2020 and this year to complete the upgrades.
The Illinois Waterway includes eight locks, all built in the 1920s and 1930s, and with single lock chambers for passing vessels. The waterway is one of the busiest in the U.S.
On June 1, the Corps closed the Brandon Road, Dresden Island and Marseilles lock and dams. They are scheduled to reopen on Sept. 30. The Corps chose the summer to avoid the heavy barge demands from the fall harvest season, and to work under better weather conditions with less chance of heavy rain and flooding. This schedule is subject to change due to river levels, weather conditions and project funding.
Officials have worked closely with the barge industry in developing the schedule, which has given barge operators time to develop alternate routes and use of their equipment. Repairs on the locks are being done simultaneously to limit the impact on navigation.
The work plan includes new upper miter gates and gate machinery at Brandon and Dresden, and concrete wall repairs at Brandon, and valve and electrical system replacements at Dresden. The work at Marseilles is less involved, with only machinery replacement and electrical repair scheduled.
Recreational and commercial vessels will be allowed to navigate between the locks during this period, but no traffic will be allowed to pass through the affected locks, according to the Corps’ Rock Island website.
Commercial barge operators that haul commodities north and south on the waterway have had to adjust to the closures.
“We have timed some maintenance projects into the first half of the year to create availability to service our customers’ floating storage needs during the Illinois River lock closures, so that has served to further tighten fleet capacity,” said H. Merritt Lane, president and CEO of Canal Barge Company Inc., New Orleans.