NASHVILLE -- U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander today said completion of a replacement for the Chickamauga Dam lock could be speeded by as much as six years as a result of conference negotiations over a major water resources bill.
The Tennessee Republican said House and Senate negotiators' agreement on the the Water Resources Development Act puts the Chickamauga Lock "fourth in the line of essential American waterways to be rebuilt."
Alexander said the existing lock is currently projected for completion by 2026 but the agreement could move that up to 2020.
"This act is good news, finally putting Chickamauga Lock fourth in the line of essential American waterways to be rebuilt, and authorizing new funding to do it," Alexander said in a news release.
But Alexander warned "the work will not be done fast enough to keep jobs flowing into East Tennessee until Congress accepts the offer of barge owners to pay more to accelerate the work."
Barger owners' offer "is in everyone's interest, including recreational boaters who would not have to pay more but would see their waiting time to go through the lock reduced," Alexander said.
Failure of the existing, decades-old lock is "a real possibility if the delay in funding takes too long" and "would threaten jobs in Chattanooga and throughout Tennessee, including at the Oak Ridge Naltional Laboratory, nuclear weapons facilities, nuclear power plants and manufacturing facilities," Alexander added.
If the lock were to close it would "put at least 150,000 trucks back on I-75, and if the new expanded lock is built it will take 100,000 trucks off I-75," Alexander said, citing figures from the Tennessee River Valley Association.