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Lockport lock, dam getting major overhaul

Lockport Lock Dam | Supplied photo

Lockport Lock and Dam | Supplied photo

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Updated: June 6, 2014 6:07AM



Unlike the highly visible trucks and rail cars that haul cargo across country, the millions of tons of coal, steel, cement, rock and agricultural products that move along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal from Chicago to New Orleans and other parts of the world are not so obvious.

To keep this economically important barge traffic moving, the 80-year-old Lockport Lock and Dam has been undergoing a $148.7 million overhaul by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the past 10 years, according to Corps project manager Mike Tarpey.

The last piece of the puzzle, made possible by a recent $12 million allocation from Congress, will replace 1,500 feet of the dam wall on the right descending bank, Tarpey said.

The dam and lock are used by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to regulate the canal’s outflow and restrict the diversion of water from Lake Michigan into the Des Plaines River.

The lock is 110 feet wide by 600 feet long and the dam is 38 feet above the surrounding area, so the wall serves to hold the water back from the city, Tarpey said. The contract to replace this forebay wall will be awarded later this year, and the work will take two years to complete.

“This project is an important step in rebuilding our aging water transportation system,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-3rd, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in a news release announcing the $12 million grant. “It will not only protect the local Lockport community but also ensure the continued positive economic impact of a properly functioning waterway system. “

Tarpey said navigation through the area will not be adversely affected during the construction.

“The lock and dam system moves a significant amount of commodities through the system,” he said.

In 2011, the latest figures available, 10.5 million tons of cargo were shipped through Lockport, up from 9.8 million the previous year.

The Lockport Lock and Dam began operating in 1933 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s situated just west of Bruce Road at the south end of Lockport.

In the late 19th century, Chicago’s increasing population caused more sewage to be released into the Chicago River, which contaminated the river and Lake Michigan, from which the city tapped its drinking water. The Sanitary and Ship Canal was built in September 1892 to reverse the flow of the river and send the sewage down to the Illinois River.

The Lockport facility was built in two phases. The first phase, from 1905-07, extended the canal and built the original lock, along with a tail race, guidewalls, forebay, sluice gate and power house, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. From 1922-33, the lock, control station and various auxiliary structures associated with the lock were constructed.

The complex was about 97 percent complete when construction was turned over to the federal government in 1930 due to the state’s financial difficulties. At the time of its construction, the vertical lift gate was reportedly the highest of its kind in the world.

In 1984, there was a $22.7 million rehabilitation project. Another major upgrade in 1995 shut it down for 60 days, according to historical records.

The current project was divided into six stages and has taken so long to complete because of funding issues, Tarpey said.

Phases that have been completed include the construction of a cut-off wall within the approach dike embankment; repairs to concrete bulkheads; replacement of brick, limestone and granite facades; construction of a precast concrete wall to replace an existing wall, stabilizing the powerhouse and clearing overgrown embankments.

“It requires maintenance, just like a car,” Tarpey said of the lock and dam. “If we didn’t address it, the system would fail.”



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