Funding the Chickamauga lock's replacement is a high priority, and legislation to find money for such projects may have to be passed in pieces, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Wednesday.
"We may have to pass it piece by piece but that's not always a bad way to do things," Alexander said after meeting with a group of Chattanooga area manufacturers.
Alexander said he and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are working with Republican and Democrat senators on the American Waterworks Act.
Aimed at modernizing America's ports, locks, and dams, including Chickamauga lock, it would double the amount of money to fund such projects, Alexander said. It also would separate the Olmsted lock project on the Ohio River that's taking about 80 percent of current funds, and it would double fees on commercial barge operators, he said.
Alexander said Chickamauga lock would rise to about third on the priority list of projects and money would be secured to finish the massive project.
He said he's working with the Senate Energy and Water Committee to try to get parts of the legislation included in an authorization bill.
If Chickamauga lock is forced to close, it would hurt more than just Chattanooga, he said.
Tim Spires, who heads the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, said the issue is of concern as the association's membership goes well beyond the city.
"We've got members all along the Tennessee River," he said.
Alexander said the lock's closure would put an extra 100,000 heavy trucks on Interstate-75 and hurt jobs in the region.
He has said that it could take a half-dozen years or more to complete the $698 million Chickamauga lock project Congress authorized in 2003.
One of the hurtles that has faced Alexander is spurring fellow Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., to support the measure because it calls for boosting the barge fuel tax.