Alexander: Legislation Passed Today Means Chickamauga Lock Construction Could Resume As Early As 2016

Says $260 million user fee increase requested by industry is the third of three steps necessary to begin prompt construction of lock replacement

Posted on December 3, 2014

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“Replacing Chickamauga Lock keeps good jobs flowing into Chattanooga and East Tennessee – including at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, nuclear facilities and manufacturing plants – makes it easier for recreational boaters to go through the lock at no cost, and keeps 150,000 trucks from clogging up I-75.” – Lamar Alexander 

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2014 – U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischman (R-Tenn.) and John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.), today announced that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that would allow construction to replace Chickamauga Lock to resume as early as 2016. Alexander called for the Senate this month to promptly approve the legislation and send it to President Obama. The legislation would provide about $260 million for inland waterways projects across the country over the next 10 years.

The fee increase is paid for entirely by commercial barge companies, which they requested, and does not affect recreational boaters who will continue to have free passage through the locks.

“Passage of this legislation would mean Congress has accepted the offer by commercial barge owners to pay more to replace Chickamauga Lock, and that construction could resume as early as 2016,” said Alexander, who is the top Republican on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, which oversees funding for the lock. “Replacing Chickamauga Lock keeps good jobs flowing into Chattanooga and East Tennessee – including at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, nuclear facilities and manufacturing plants – makes it easier for recreational boaters to go through the lock at no cost, and keeps 150,000 trucks from clogging up I-75. I especially congratulate Congressman Fleischmann for his work on this legislation. Without his support and that of Senator Corker and Congressman Duncan, this would not have happened. I will work to make sure it receives prompt consideration in the Senate.”

“This common sense solution is an important step toward returning to a structure where our nation’s transportation system is fully funded by those who use it,” said Corker. “I appreciate Senator Alexander, Congressman Fleischman and Congressman Duncan’s leadership on this issue, and I’m pleased this measure will help needed construction at Chickamauga Lock move forward.”

“Since my first day in office, I have been fighting to secure funding for the Chickamauga Lock,” said Fleischmann. “Earlier this year, we passed legislation to reform the main funding mechanism for the lock. This was an essential fix to the underlying problem, but there is more work to be done. Today, we moved one step closer to completing our goal with the passage of the barge fuel fee increase. This fee will add approximately $40 million in annual funding to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which could allow construction to start as early as 2016.  The legislation passed today will ensure that East Tennessee has the waterways infrastructure necessary to build a world class economy.”

“Hopefully, this much needed funding will speed up the new Chickamauga Lock construction. Our Nation’s inland waterways need critical repairs, and I am pleased that we have found a solution supported by all interests,” said Duncan. “According to a study by the Iowa Department of Transportation, one barge takes 58 large semi-trailer trucks of the road, and one 15-barge tow takes 870 large semi-trailer trucks off the road. We must keep our waterways fully operational. Congressman Fleischmann and Senator Alexander have been great champions of this cause as well, and I am so thankful for all of their hard work to get this passed.”

The legislation would authorize a 9-cent increase in the user fee commercial barge owners pay to use U.S. river locks and navigation channels – which the barge owners themselves have called for – increasing the fee to 29 cents per gallon of fuel used. It passed as part of the ABLE Act, a broader piece of legislation that removes federal disincentives to work for individuals with disabilities.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the commercial barge user fee increase will generate about $260 million over the next 10 years for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, a fund that provides half the money for projects like Chickamauga Lock, with the other half coming from the U.S. Treasury. How much money Chickamauga Lock will receive depends upon how much funding is requested by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers next year and the congressional appropriations process, but Alexander said the fee increase would enable the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to resume construction as early as 2016.

Alexander said that today’s action is the third of three major steps in his long-term plan to replace Chickamauga Lock – a several-year project that is expected to cost more than half a billion dollars to complete. The first two were passed into law as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, including:

  • First step: a change in the cost share for Olmstead Lock in Ohio from 50 percent of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to 15 percent, to enable more existing money to be used for other projects, such as Chickamauga Lock.
  • Second step: the prioritization of Chickamauga Lock as No. 4 in the federal government’s priority list for inland waterways projects.
  • Third step: the enactment of the user fee increase commercial barge owners pay to use U.S. river locks and navigation.

Alexander originally proposed all three changes to Chickamauga Lock funding – the fee increase, the change to Olmsted Lock and the prioritization of Chickamauga Lock – as part of his American Waterworks Act in 2012. When Republicans take control of the Senate in January, Alexander is expected to serve as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development, a position he said he’ll use to help make sure Chickamauga Lock remains a construction funding priority.

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