Congress on Thursday approved final passage of legislation that would authorize more funding for the nation’s inland waterways, and Senator Lamar Alexander said "could lead to replacement of Chickamauga Lock by as much as six years earlier than the previously projected completion of 2026."
The Senate passed the legislation today as part of the Water Resources Development Act by a vote of 91 to 7. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act by a vote of 412 to 4 on Tuesday, and the legislation now heads to the president’s desk for signature.
“Congress has done the right thing by finally agreeing to put Chickamauga Lock fourth in the line of essential American waterways to be rebuilt, and authorizing new funding to do it,” Senator Alexander said. “But 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. Their 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.
“Failure of the existing lock – a real possibility if the delay in funding takes too long – would threaten jobs in Chattanooga and throughout East Tennessee, including at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, nuclear weapons facilities, nuclear power plants and manufacturing facilities. If the Lock is closed it will 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, according to the Tennessee River Valley Association.”
Both the House and Senate previously passed their own versions of the Water Resources Development Act, and the legislation passed today was the result of conference negotiations between the two chambers. The legislation, which will become law following a signature by the president, would prioritize funding for Chickamauga Lock in two ways:
- First, it would decrease the amount of money the Inland Waterways Trust Fund pays each year to construct Olmsted Lock, an Ohio River project that Alexander said has “soaked up almost all of the available money for lock replacement anywhere in the country.” Olmsted Lock would go from receiving half of its funding from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to receiving 15 percent of its funding from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. This change makes more money available to fund inland navigation projects like Chickamauga Lock.
- Second, it would restate the capital development plan that prioritizes construction projects, ensuring that Chickamauga Lock will be No. 4 on the priority list as funding becomes available for projects.
These two provisions mean work on Chickamauga Lock could begin sooner than otherwise possible, leading to an earlier completion by as much as six years, Senator Alexander said. Based on the current backlog, Chickamauga Lock is not scheduled for completion until 2026. Currently, Chickamauga Lock is composed of aging and severely deteriorating concrete.
Infrastructure projects like rebuilding Chickamauga Lock are funded by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which draws on fees that commercial users report and pay themselves. In addition to the two provisions contained in the Water Resources Development Act, Alexander said the $600 million project to replace the lock over five years would still require a fee increase that commercial users already support.
Senator Alexander previously called for all three changes – the removal of Olmsted Lock from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, the restatement of the capital plan, and the user-supported fee increase – as part of the American Waterworks Act. He announced May 1 that portions of that legislation would advance as part of the Water Resources Development Act.