Key committee boosts funding for Chickamauga Lock

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / The concrete monolith is seen. The US Army Corps of Engineers celebrated the first “topped out” concrete monolith at the Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project on Monday, May 22, 2023.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / The concrete monolith is seen. The US Army Corps of Engineers celebrated the first “topped out” concrete monolith at the Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project on Monday, May 22, 2023.


Despite construction delays and cost overruns, a new and bigger lock at the Chickamauga Dam will get the extra funding to ensure it is built and begins operation by 2026 under a budget plan moving through Congress.

A key congressional committee last week voted to provide another $236.8 million next year for the Chickamauga replacement lock to completely fund the long-delayed project. By a 32-24 vote Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill to boost funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains and operates the lock on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga.

The White House's proposed budget did not include any funding in fiscal 2024 for the new Chickamauga Lock. The existing lock, built by the Tennessee Valley Authority, is suffering from problems in its rock aggregate that causes concrete growth, and the cost of building a new and bigger lock has swelled to $954.4 million, up from the previous estimate of $757 million made six years ago and triple the initial cost estimates for the project when it began in the 1990s.

But at the urging of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, the Chattanooga Republican who chairs the subcommittee on energy and water appropriations, the funding for the new lock was increased by more than 30% in the House spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

 

"My first bill as chairman of the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies subcommittee makes historic investments in modernizing our nation's nuclear deterrent, water infrastructure projects nationwide, scientific research and long-term energy independence," Fleischmann said in a statement after the $58 billion energy and water spending plan was approved by the House appropriations committee.

Fleischmann, who has made funding for the new Chickamauga Lock one of his top priorities, has jokingly called the project the "Chuck Lock" after his continued support for funding the waterway project since he was elected to the Congress in 2010.

The congressman "has always vowed that the Chickamauga Lock would be fully funded" despite its cost overruns, Justin Doil, a spokesperson for Fleischmann, said.

"This is a critical project for Tennessee's economy and our national economy," Doil said in an emailed statement.

The spending measure must still be approved by the full House of Representatives and reconciled with whatever spending measure is approved in the U.S. Senate.

Using previous appropriations, including a record $191 million in 2021, Shimmick Construction Co. continues to work to build the concrete walls and floors of the new 110-by-600-foot lock beneath the Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee River. In 2022, the contractor requested an additional $96.3 million and 590 days to complete its work to cover unanticipated inflationary costs and shipping delays during the pandemic.

The new lock will replace the smaller and crumbling existing lock, built in 1940. The bigger lock will be able to handle up to nine jumbo barges at one time, while the current lock can only have one such barge at a time.

Fleischmann said the bigger lock will help accommodate more and faster shipments of goods on America's inland waterways, one of the most efficient means of transporting heavy commodities and equipment. The Corps projects that the lock helps keep up to 150,000 trucks off Interstate 75.

The new lock should be operational sometime in 2026, with site remediation extending through 2028, according to Army Capt. Joseph Cotton, project manager on the lock replacement project.

Fleischmann said the total recommended spending plan for energy, water and defense-related projects totals $58 billion, an increase of $1.3 billion above fiscal year 2023. But Fleischmann said the plan is still $2 billion below the president's budget request because the measure reallocates many of the funds not already spent under the Inflation Reduction Act.

The barge industry, which uses America's inland waterways to transport more than 600 million tons of freight every year, praised the additional federal funding for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund construction projects.

"This will continue critical modernization on the nation's inland waterways, a vital part of our transportation supply chain," Tracy Zea, president and CEO of Waterways Council, Inc., said in a statement Friday.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.


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