The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday for the Olmsted Locks and Dam, a project that will bring reliable navigation to the Ohio River offering millions of dollars of economic gains annually.
Olmsted Locks and Dam and the Ohio River create a strategic region providing a connection between the Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. According to national inland waterway statistics, more tonnage passes through the region than any other place in America’s inland navigation system.
“Once fully operational, Olmsted will provide much-needed reliability and an average annual economic benefit of approximately $640 million per year,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It will be the lynchpin of our country’s incredible inland waterways system.”
The Corps’ 54th Chief of Engineers and Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said improving navigation is one of the Corps earliest civil works missions, which dates back to the early 1800s.
“We have relentlessly delivered unmatched reliability for America’s farmers, manufacturers, shippers, vessel operators and consumers,” said Semonite. “Today, 98 percent of overseas trade, with a value of $2 trillion, moves through Corps of Engineers projects.”
Great Lakes and Ohio River Division Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Toy stated the nation is suffering from the effects of aging infrastructure. Within this division, there are lock and dam facilities that are more than 100 years old. These inland waterway facilities had an expected design lifespan of about 50 years; however, because of the dedication and outstanding work of the lock and dam operators and maintenance crews, the Corps has continued to operate these facilities for the nation.
“Thanks to our team, the Olmsted Locks and Dam will ensure the viability of this commercial waterway so important to our nation’s economic security,” said Toy. “Everything we build, everything we do in USACE is about taking care of people.”
The project is the largest Corps project since the Panama Canal. It consists of two 110-foot by 1,200-foot locks, which are located adjacent to the Illinois bank and a dam comprised of five tainter gates, which control the amount of water that flows downstream. Additionally, there are 140 wickets and a fixed weir.
“This project reflects the hard work and dedication of an incredible team,” said Col. Antoinette Gant, commander Louisville District. “I am proud of the Louisville District employees and contractors who have given of themselves to bring this project to fruition.”
“From the beginning, we knew that safety, innovation, planning, communication and our people would be critical for this project,” said Kevin McLaughlin, project director AECOM. “As a contractor, seldom do you have the opportunity to work on a once-in-a-generation and, for some, a once-in-a-lifetime project like this, where the challenges were met by a united workforce.”
Olmsted Locks and Dam will eventually replace Ohio River locks and dams 52 and 53, completed in 1929. The existing dams have outlived their 15-year designs, making it impossible for these structures to meet current-day traffic demands.
“From initial project planning all the way through today’s final ribbon-cutting ceremony, our members have never wavered in delivering ‘value on display, every day,” said Sean McGarvey, North America’s Building Trades Unions President. “For over thirty years, we’ve deployed the highest skilled workers every day at Olmsted, putting in 45 million workhours to build and maintain this phenomenal infrastructure accomplishment.”
According to McGarvey, the Building Trades’ skilled labor boosted the economy of the Ohio River Valley and continues to support the region’s middle class by creating millions of jobs that provide family-supporting wages, worker training, protections and benefits.
“Within the Corps, we are revolutionizing our culture to responsibly accelerate project delivery, optimize financing and budgeting, and improve permitting and regulatory activities,” said Semonite. “Olmsted stands as a shining example of what is possible when we all marshal our ingenuity, innovation and investment in a vital public good.”