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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Construction continues on the Chickamauga Lock on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.

Chattanooga's biggest construction project is getting a record amount of money this year under a revised funding formula Congress adopted to help rebuild part of America's infrastructure.

The lock being erected at the Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga will receive $191 million in the current fiscal year to help complete the new and bigger passageway for barge traffic on the Tennessee River within the next four years. The Chickamauga Lock project is getting one of the biggest largest allocations of any of the 239 locks in the country, exceeded only by the new Soo lock being built between the U.S. and Canada in the upper peninsula of Michigan, which that state is helping to fund.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, the Chattanooga Republican who serves on the energy and water subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, said in his decade in Congress he has worked every year to first revive funding for the stalled Chickamauga replacement lock and now to provide nearly enough money for its completion.

"It took years and a lot of effort to change the funding formula and to make sure this project had a high priority, but I am proud to announce that with the $191 million in the fiscal 2021 budget we have attained almost full funding for the new lock project," Fleischmann said during a visit to the lock Wednesday.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Rep. Chuck Fleischmann looks on as Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon speaks at the Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee River on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.

The extra money should sustain work through at least 2023 and, with the proper additional funding, project manager Adam Walker said the new lock should be finished by 2025 — more than two decades after construction first began.

Delays in funding for the project helped to more than double the original projected cost for building the new lock. At the end of 2020 Walker said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had spent about $318 million, or about 42% of the projected total $757 million price tag, for the new lock.

On Wednesday, more than 300 workers from the Oakland, California-based contracting firm Shimmick Construction Co. (formerly AECOM Energy and Construction) worked to build the concrete walls and floors of the new 110-by-600-foot lock beneath the Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee River.

The new lock will replace the smaller and crumbling existing lock originally built by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1940. The bigger lock can 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, said the bigger lock should 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 1940 construction. That has caused cracking throughout the lock chamber, but Fleischmann said the 3,000 monitors the Corps has installed in the existing lock to maintain and monitor its status indicate it can continue to be used for years while the new lock is erected.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Construction continues on the Chickamauga Lock on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.

All concrete for the new lock is mixed on-site and delivered by an elevated conveyor system. In all, the new lock will require 240,000 cubic yards of concrete, or enough concrete to pave a two-lane highway from Chattanooga to Nashville, Walker said.

Downstream at the Kentucky Lock on the Tennessee River in Gilbertsville, Kentucky, the Corps plans to spend another $110.1 million this year on a new and bigger lock being erected below TVA's Kentucky Lock. The increased spending on locks this year is part of a record-high $7.8 billion budget for the Army Corps of Engineers.

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

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