Army Corps says aging river system needs repairs
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org October 26, 2013 4:08PM
Updated: November 28, 2013 6:47AM
The wall that keeps the Des Plaines River off the streets of downtown Joliet and the Brandon Road Lock and Dam downstream need about $37 million worth of repairs, a federal official said Friday.
That’s how much maintenance is needed but has been deferred for lack of funding, Michael Cox, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District, said during a congressman’s tour of the Brandon Road Lock and Dam.
Cox and others with the Army Corps of Engineers showed U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-11th) deteriorating concrete walls during a tour of the Brandon Road Lock and Dam. The tour apparently was at least in part an attempt to convince the congressman of the need for more federal spending on the facility that is in his district.
But repairs on the Joliet Wall, the wall that dams in the Des Plaines River as it cuts through downtown and flows south to the Brandon lock, is a higher priority than the lock and dam, Cox said.
Cox said the problems identified at the Joliet Wall are not so severe as to be considered potentially catastrophic. But, he said, “If we don’t get it fixed, it’s just going to deteriorate further.”
Cox pegged the cost of repairs to the Joliet Wall at $15 million, and said the repairs identified at the Brandon lock and dam have been estimated at $22 million. But, he said, “We don’t really know the extent of repairs that need to be made.”
At the Brandon Road facility, Cox pointed out one section of lock wall that was known to be moving. The cost of borings needed to locate the source of the problem is $200,000, Cox said, adding, “That’s just one example of our backlog.”
The Brandon Road Lock and Dam was built in the 1930s, and much of the structure dates to that era.
Foster afterward said the maintenance issues in Joliet were an example of how much of the nation’s transportation infrastructure is aging while maintenance is being pushed back.
“We have to make sure these investments are made to support economic growth,” Foster said. “There can be damage to our economy from decayed infrastructure.”
The Joliet Wall and Brandon lock are part of the Illinois Waterway System that makes it possible for barges to move cargo between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.
In 2011, Cox said, 11 million tons of cargo valued at $5.5 million went through the Brandon lock. That is down from the previous 10-year annual average of 14 million tons. Cox said river traffic fell off because of the economic downtown but is picking up again on the northern end of the Illinois Waterway System.
The Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District, operates and maintains eight locks on the Illinois river system and 20 on the Mississippi River.
Col. Mark Deschenes, commander of the Rock Island District, raised the prospect of lock walls caving in and dam gates failing without major work being done.
“The locks and dams were all built in the 1930s,” Deschenes said. He said the system is overdue for major rehabilitation and that in another 10 years, “We’re going to be really playing with fire. We’re kind of playing with fire already.”