Tennessean: Cline Jones: Upgrading river locks vital to our economy

Posted on June 19, 2010

The Ten­nessee River pro­vides tremen­dous ben­e­fits and oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­mer­cial nav­i­ga­tion, recre­ation and the envi­ron­ment through­out the Ten­nessee Valley.

Recre­ational boaters, who accord­ing to the Ten­nessee Val­ley Author­ity con­tribute over $20 mil­lion to the econ­omy annu­ally, and com­mer­cial nav­i­ga­tion share many of the same inter­ests: a safe, mod­ern, reli­able and well-maintained water­way infra­struc­ture that pre­serves the envi­ron­ment while enhanc­ing qual­ity of life.

Cline Jones  

Nav­i­ga­tion locks at nine main­stream dams on the Ten­nessee River allow com­mer­cial tows and recre­ational craft year-round access to the 652 mile-long main­stream chan­nel and the river’s numer­ous tributaries.

But many of the locks are near or beyond their design life. Com­pleted in 1940, the Chicka­mauga Lock near Chat­tanooga is at an increas­ing risk of fail­ure due to an alkali aggre­gate reac­tion (con­crete growth). Stud­ies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers and TVA indi­cate that the risk of cat­a­strophic fail­ure increases dra­mat­i­cally beyond 2010, and at some point TVA will have to per­ma­nently close the Chicka­mauga Lock to all water­way traf­fic out of con­cerns for safety.

In addi­tion to lock­ing through 4,050 recre­ational ves­sels in 2009, which makes it the high­est vol­ume lock for recre­ation on the Ten­nessee River sys­tem, the Chicka­mauga Lock pro­vides access to 318 miles of com­mer­cially nav­i­ga­ble water­ways that are a vital trans­porta­tion artery crit­i­cal to the region’s economy.

Com­modi­ties that pass through the lock have ori­gins or des­ti­na­tions in 17 states. Clos­ing the lock would impact the heart­land of Amer­ica and beyond, mak­ing lock replace­ment impor­tant to not only Ten­nessee, but also to a large por­tion of the nation.

Sen. Alexan­der lends support

In 2005, prepa­ra­tion was begun for con­struc­tion of a replace­ment lock next to the exist­ing struc­ture, but later this year work will be sus­pended for at least a decade. Con­struc­tion funds are not included in the president’s fis­cal year 2011 bud­get, and rev­enue of the Inland Water­ways Trust Fund that is derived from the diesel fuel tax of 20 cents per gal­lon paid by the com­mer­cial tow­ing indus­try are not suf­fi­cient to pay the 50 per­cent of con­struc­tion costs for planned improve­ments and reha­bil­i­ta­tion of the nations’ nav­i­ga­tion infrastructure.

In a bud­get year when many of his col­leagues in Con­gress are not request­ing fund­ing for projects in their states, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexan­der has coura­geously acknowl­edged the con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated respon­si­bil­ity of Con­gress in the bud­get process, stat­ing, “When Ten­nesseans con­tact me about projects in Ten­nessee, it is not my job to give them the president’s phone num­ber.” Sen. Alexan­der has requested $26 mil­lion to ensure con­tin­ued con­struc­tion of a replace­ment lock.

Tennessee’s senior sen­a­tor has also expressed strong sup­port for rec­om­men­da­tions of the Inland Marine Trans­porta­tion Sys­tem Cap­i­tal Invest­ment Strat­egy. Con­sist­ing of mem­bers of the Inland Water­ways Users Board and high-ranking offi­cials of the Corps of Engi­neers, a “White Paper Work­ing Group” has worked for one year to develop the reforms that are also sup­ported by U.S. Sens. Bob Corker of Ten­nessee, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Mitch McConnell of Ken­tucky, the Ten­nessee River Val­ley Asso­ci­a­tion and the com­mer­cial tow­ing indus­try.
The rec­om­men­da­tions include pre­serv­ing the 50 per­cent fed­eral and 50 per­cent indus­try cost-sharing for­mula and increas­ing the fuel tax to as much as 29 cents a gal­lon as needed to pro­vide $110 mil­lion annu­ally to fund nav­i­ga­tion improve­ments and construction.

The Ten­nessee River Val­ley Asso­ci­a­tion encour­ages sup­port for Sen. Alexander’s efforts on behalf of the Chicka­mauga Lock project. These efforts will ensure that the Ten­nessee River con­tin­ues to pro­vide the ben­e­fits and oppor­tu­ni­ties to com­mer­cial nav­i­ga­tion, recre­ation and the envi­ron­ment that make vital con­tri­bu­tions to the econ­omy and qual­ity of life in the Ten­nessee Valley.

Cline Jones is exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ten­nessee River Val­ley Asso­ci­a­tion Tennessee-Cumberland Water­ways Council.