WTVC NewsChannel9: Hope For Chickamauga Dam Lock

Posted on October 24, 2012

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, is co-sponsoring a bill with U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, to undertake a massive public works program that would rebuild the country's dilapidated water infrastructure. This would include funding the now on-hold Chickamauga lock project.

Work to build a new Chickamauga Dam lock came to a grinding halt two years ago. $200-million dollars was already spent and another $400-million is needed. But Congress and the President haven't budgeted any money to finish the job.

This crucial link in the nations inland waterway system is scheduled to be closed in just a few years because it's literally crumbling apart.

"If the current dilapidated lock closes we'll lose thousands of jobs in east Tennessee and put another 150,000 trucks on I-75," Sen. Alexander said.

That's because all the freight moved by river barge now will have to be moved on roads or rails.

So Senator Lamar Alexander is introducing the "American Waterworks Act" to upgrade the country's ports, locks and dams.

"The Chickamauga lock is the fourth highest national priority," Sen. Alexander said.

If the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives pass the measure it's written to be funded. Sen. Alexander said that would be done with tax dollars and higher user fees for commercial users. The barge industry supports a 15% hike in their fees.

Debra Colbert, Senior Vice President of Waterways Council Incorporated, said "in terms of traffic congestion and environmental impact one 15-barge tow, that's a typical standard tow on our nations rivers, that equates to 1,050 trucks and 260 rail cars and six locomotives."

In exchange for higher user fees barge operators will be able to push nine times more freight through the new Chickamauga lock compared to today's capacity. Sen. Alexander said that is expected to create thousands of additional jobs.

The good news for recreational boaters is that locking through the dams will remain free.

The key question now -- can a new lock be finished before the old lock is forced to close for safety reasons?

If Congress passes and funds the "American Waterworks Act" it will take at least five to seven years to finish the Chickamauga lock project.