Chattanooga's biggest construction project is continuing on the Tennessee River even though no new funding is being provided this year for the half-built endeavor.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is building the new and bigger lock through the Chickamauga Dam to handle more river barge traffic, provided no funds for the replacement lock in Chattanooga in its 2023 work plan despite increases in overall funding for infrastructure projects this year.
In President Joe Biden's initial budget plan, the Chickamauga Lock was proposed to get $39.3 million in fiscal 2023 to fund the project to its completion, according to the Waterways Journal Weekly. But the Corps' final work plan released last month provided no new funds for Chickamauga this year.
Deb Calhoun, senior vice president for the barge industry group Waterways Council Inc., said in a statement Wednesday the industry was disappointed.
"Chickamauga Lock, like many projects, is facing challenges, but we look forward to it becoming operational in 2026," she said.
After receiving a record $191 million in funding for the new Chickamauga Lock two years ago, construction of a new lock at the Chickamauga Dam has continued by the contractor for the project, the Oakland, California-based Shimmick Construction Co.
But additional funding to Chickamauga was suspended when the Corps determined it no longer had the capability to execute more funding on the project this year and is reassessing its cost and completion schedule.
Kevin Jasper, chief of the integrated project office at the Nashville district office for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said no new contracts will be awarded for the Chickamauga Lock work in 2023 and contracts for the remaining work on the downstream approach wall and the decommissioning of the existing lock will be awarded in 2024-25.
"The lack of funding this year will not impact ongoing work on the replacement lock," he said in an emailed statement.
Jasper estimates the completion of the new Chickamauga Lock may now take until 2028 or 2029, which is two to three years later than what the Corps had previously projected.
During an August 2022 meeting of the Corps with the Inland Waterways Users Board, Stephanie Hall, deputy district engineer for the Nashville engineering district, said work on the Chickamauga Lock contract was 42% complete. Hall said the contractor was experiencing delays due to supply chain interruptions and other pandemic-related problems.
Shimmick 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. Last year, the contractor requested an additional $96.3 million and 590 days to complete its work, Hall said.
The new lock will replace the smaller and crumbling existing lock originally built by the Tennessee Valley Authority 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.
Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, the chief of engineers and commanding general, has 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 and lowers the transportation costs for many companies, including Olin Corp. in Cleveland, Tennessee, and A.E. Staley in Loudon.
The new lock is also needed to replace the 80-year-old existing passageway through the Chickamauga Dam, which suffers from "concrete growth" due to the alkali aggregate reactions present in the concrete since the existing lock's original construction.
The Corps is now engaged in an alternative dispute resolution process on the costs and schedule of the project with Shimmick. In the meantime, the Corps is updating its costs and schedule for the Chickamauga Lock program, which should be released later this spring, according to Corps spokesman Bill Peoples.
Last year, Chickamauga handled 2,493 lockages, Peoples said.