Olmsted Lock & Dam project takes national spotlight after government shutdown


Reporter - Kendall Downing
Web Editor - Mason Stevenson

OLMSTED, Ill. - As life returns to normal after the government shutdown, we are seeing how one portion of that last minute deal is putting the Local 6 area in the national spotlight.

Congress authorized a spending increase up to $2.9 billion for the Olmsted Locks and Dam project on the Ohio River.

Last year Congressman Ed Whitfield called the project a complete failure.  Critics of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell call the authorization cap increase a "Kentucky kickback."

But reps for both say the House and Senate had individually approved kicking up the funding.

And if it didn't happen, more than $100 million in taxpayer money would be lost in canceled contracts.

Construction of the Olmsted Locks and Dam started in 1992.

The Army Corps initially had a cap of $1.7 billion in place. Their spending currently sits at $1.6 billion and the project isn't even halfway done.

The Corps says they've run into unexpected engineering challenges. They are dropping pieces of the dam right into the river instead of working in a dry basin... what was supposed to be an innovative approach is costly.

"This is a very difficult portion of the river to try and do construction work in. Lock and dam 52 and 53 that this is going to replace they were actually built by the government ecause the government couldn't find contractors in the 1920s willing and capable of taking on the risk," US Army Corps engineer Brad Bradley said.

The Corps says the dam portion should be complete now by 2020 and the overall project ready by 2024.

The Corps estimates the improved locks and dam will add $640 million in annual benefits to the national economy with increased transportation productivity.