Starting the Shutdown
Partial closures start on Illinois River as lock work begins
May 30, 2019
Brett Herrmann, NewsTribune Online Editor
A major overhaul of the Illinois Waterway system has started at Starved Rock.
The locks at Starved Rock and Marseilles will be partially closed to river traffic during daytime hours for about 90 days this summer as workers prepare for a major construction project in summer 2020.
The Starved Rock Lock and Dam opened in 1933. And Starved Rock, along with work on six other locks and dams on the Illinois River, will see some of their first major renovations in the past 80-90 years.
The partial closures
The United States Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District is overseeing the project on the river, which will affect boat traffic moving forward starting June 1.
“There are 12 hour closures and they take place daily,” said Corps spokesperson Allen Marshall.
Both Starved Rock and Marseilles will be closed to commercial and recreational traffic from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. from June 1 to Aug. 16. However, the locks will be open for normal 24-hour operation on July 3-7 to make way for the expected increase of holiday recreational boating.
During the nighttime hours, commercial vessels will be able to lock through with a 70 foot width restriction, lockmaster Chris Rush said.
Both locks will also offer a scheduled recreational lockage at 5:30 a.m. each day.
The Corps previously stated there would be full closure at Starved Rock from Aug. 16-29.
The work this summer
Heavy equipment moved onto the river at Starved Rock in the past couple of weeks. J.F. Brennan Co., a Wisconsin-based company with an Ottawa office, has been contracted to do the work.
“They’re going to remove the emergency gates and put in bulkhead slots,” Marshall said.
This is preparatory work for 2020, when the contractors will need to de-water the locks.
Work next summer
The 2020 work consists of repairs at the Starved Rock, Marseilles, Brandon Road, Dresden Island, Peoria and LaGrange locks. River traffic will be shut down for extended periods of time at each location.
At Starved Rock full closure is expected July 1 to Oct. 31, to install upper and lower miter gates. The lock chamber will be drained of water and impassable to boats. But that does not mean water levels in the river will be affected.
“None of the work we’re doing will change the way we operate the dams to maintain the pools,” Marshall said.
What about transportation?
The closures will have an impact on the logistics industry. Rail and semi traffic may increase this summer and next summer during the closures since local industries will have to find alternative ways to move commodities.
One barge has the capacity of about 58 semitrailers, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. And one 15 barge tow has the capacity of about 870 semis or 200 jumbo hopper car trains.
What about flooding?
Water levels are on the rise again after heavy rains earlier this week, and the Illinois River is still above flood stage. However, high river levels are not expected to slow down work this summer.
“We would definitely announce a schedule change if it were,” Marshall said.
Workers are still able to get to the construction zone via Dee Bennett Road.
The reason summer months were chosen for the work this summer and next year is because historically flooding is less likely to occur in June through August, Marshall said.
However, there is still a possibility it will affect future work if flooding becomes severe.
What about the lock workers?
While they might not be helping barge traffic through for half the day, there is still plenty of work to go around, lockmaster Chris Rush said.
“It will be good for us because we can get at a lot of stuff we have been putting off,” he said.
Rush said there is plenty of maintenance work to keep the crew busy through the summer and the partial closures will not be affecting anyone’s jobs.
See construction photos.