CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) – The Illinois Corn Growers Association held its annual meeting last week, recognizing their successful efforts to lobby Congress for infrastructure funds to upgrade and expand barge locks on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.
The locks are important for river transportation of corn and soybeans, says Illinois Corn Executive Director Rodney Weinzierl.
“For the inland waterway system, there is some $2.5 billion in there for upgrading our aging lock system,” Weinzierl said. “It’s probably going to take a decade. These are big projects. These are $400 to $500 million projects. Each of them are seven to eight million man-hours to build, so a lot of jobs.”
The project will leave a lasting impact for years to come after the locks are upgraded.
“What it really does is it positions the U.S. to be competitive in world exports for grains, for other bulk products for the next 50 years,” Weinzierl said. “That’s two-and-a-half family farm generations that this is going to matter to, if not longer, so these are really big deals.”
The lock upgrades include the addition of a longer chamber to accommodate a typical 15-barge tow.
“We are going to go from just a 600-foot chamber to adding a 1200-foot chamber, so that makes that lock more reliable because there’s now two locks,” Weinzierl said. “You have the original 600, you have the 1200 that’s new, that’s more efficient.”
Five locks on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Keokuk, Iowa will be upgraded, as well as two locks on the Illinois River at Peoria and La Grange.
“The La Grange Lock which is in Meredosia, Illinois, that gets efficiency on the Illinois River. When La Grange is done, we hope to upgrade Peoria,” Weinzierl said. “All of that will really increase the efficiency of our export system and make the US a much more reliable deliverer of exports throughout the world.”
In addition to southbound grain, the projects also benefit northbound petroleum, chemicals, fertilizer, road salt and chlorine for municipal water purification.