2019 Illinois Waterway Lock Closures
The Illinois Waterway connects the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River near St. Louis, and it typically carries more than 29 million tons of cargo each year. It will be receiving much-needed major rehabilitation and lock repairs during the summers of 2019, 2020 and 2023. This work is starting with two locks on the Illinois River during the summer of 2019.
Q: Why is this work needed?
A: These locks are all approaching 80 to 90 years old and were built with a 50-year engineered lifespan. The Illinois Waterways’ system of locks and dams received a failing grade of D in 2017 from the American Society of Civil Engineers and a general failing grade from America’s Waterway Initiative.
The Illinois Soybean Association checkoff program has been leading collaborations and facilitating discussions among industry, government and transportation stakeholders to develop solutions to infrastructure challenges like these. These priority repairs are a good first step in improving the condition of locks and dams on the Illinois Waterway.
This major maintenance effort is expected to increase the lifespan of these assets another 25 years, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Q: When and where will locks be closed in 2019?
A: During the summer of 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun maintenance and repairs at the Starved Rock and Marseilles locks on the Illinois River. Rehabilitation projects naturally must recognize and address unexpected contingencies that come up during the work. These timetables have been amended as of July 19 to accommodate change orders that need to be handled with the current work.
- Partial closures will occur from June 1 to July 3 and July 8 to September 10, instead of mid-August. During this time, the locks will be closed during the day, but operational from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day, though with some restrictions.
- These locks will be open without restrictions from 6 p.m. on September 10 until 6 a.m. September 20.
- These locks will be fully closed September 20 to October 13, about five weeks later than initially planned. And the length of this full closure has been extended due to high water.
- The navigation lock at Lockport, Illinois, will also be closed September 21 to October 5 due to unanticipated, urgent repair needs.
Q: What work will be done?
A: The work in 2019 will prepare the Starved Rock and Marseilles locks to be dewatered next summer for more extensive repairs and major rehabilitation, which will include miter gate installation.
The 2019 closures also will serve as a test for the 2020 work and full closures of six locks along the Illinois Waterway starting July 1, 2020, planned to last up to four months and scheduled to reopen November 1, 2020.
The full schedule of planned closures and repairs shows U.S. Army Corp of Engineers efforts to efficiently complete work while minimizing the impact to commercial navigation.
Q: How will this work impact soybean producers?
A: Illinois soybean producers benefit from the Illinois Waterway through both shipping soybeans to domestic and international customers and receiving inputs like fertilizer shipped upriver. Illinois exports about 60 percent of the soybeans produced here annually, with an estimated value of $3.5 billion. A significant amount of these soybeans travel through the Illinois Waterway, especially from northern and central Illinois.
The Illinois Waterway corridor serves as a competitive mode relative to rail transport that keeps a check on costs and rail rates. Without the waterway, there may not be shipping alternatives, especially for relatively low-value, bulk commodities like soybeans.
Extending the life of infrastructure on the Illinois Waterway ensures an efficient, affordable option to get bulk and prospectively containerized soybeans to customers.
The investments and construction improvements will also provide a basis for future repairs and maintenance that remain to be funded and executed on the Illinois Waterway, and throughout the U.S. inland waterways.
Q: How will these closures impact shipping now?
A: The Illinois Soybean Association has been working with transportation partners and other waterway stakeholders to communicate, understand and manage the temporary impact on shipping flows. Planning ahead for scheduled closures will minimize the impact.
During the four-month span of the 2020 closures, the Illinois Waterway averages 13.3 million tons of cargo passing through the locks. Other modes will help manage this freight during the closures, but some freight volumes may have no other viable economic shipping alternative. Some increase in inventories is expected, with materials perhaps stored in idle barges, ready to move as soon as navigation reopens. However, long-term benefits of maintenance and repairs to the Illinois Waterway are expected to outweigh the temporary inconvenience.