The demand for water-borne commerce on the Ohio River requires periodic improvements in the waterways transportation infrastructure. Locks and Dams No. 52 and 53, located on the Ohio River between Paducah, Kentucky, and Cairo, Illinois, were completed in 1929. Temporary 1200-foot long lock chambers were added later. The antiquated design and age of these structures make it impossible to meet current traffic demands without significant delays.
In 2011, more than 90 million tons of goods were shipped through this reach of the Ohio River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the navigation industry, in a continuing effort to provide for the nation`s future navigation needs, will replace these aged facilities with one of the largest civil works projects undertaken by the Corps.
This new locks and dam project is under construction near the community of Olmsted, Illinois at Ohio River Mile 964.4. Construction of the Olmsted Locks and Dam Project was authorized by the United States Congress on 17 November 1988, by the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-676).
The cost of this project is being equally shared by congressional appropriation and the navigation industry. Industry pays a tax on diesel fuel, which goes to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The trust fund then pays 50 percent of the project cost which is estimated to be $2.9 billion.
This strategic reach of the Ohio River provides a connection between the Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mississippi rivers. The area has been described as the "hub" of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers waterway system. Barge traffic moving between the Mississippi River system and the Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers must pass through this stretch of river. More tonnage passes this point than any other place in America`s inland navigation system. This is a critical reach of water from a commercial navigation perspective.
The Olmsted project will consist of two 110-foot by 1200-foot lock chambers located along the Illinois shoreline. The dam will consist of five tainter gates, a 1,400-foot navigable pass, and a fixed weir.
In the raised position, the wickets will maintain the required navigable depths from the Olmsted project upstream to Smithland Locks and Dam. When river flows are sufficient, the wickets can be lowered to lie flat on the river bottom and allow traffic to navigate over the dam sill without having to pass through the locks. This reduces delays experienced by locking through the system.
The capacity of this project will be sufficient to meet projected demands for tow traffic well into the 21st century.