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After Decades Of Work, Olmsted Locks And Dam To Partially Open On Ohio River

Becca Schimmel
Ohio Valley ReSource
Ships and barges will be able to start using the Olmsted Locks and Dam in October.

After nearly 30 years of work, the Army Corps of Engineers will partially open a new locks-and-dam system Thursday on the Ohio River between Kentucky and Illinois. Ships and barges will be able to start using the Olmsted Locks and Dam in October.

Olmsted will be the center of one of the busiest sections of the Ohio River with about 90 million tons of commerce passing through every year.

The project began in 1988 and broke ground in 1993. It will eventually replace a locks and dam system dating back to the 1920s.

Mike Braden is the chief of the Olmsted division of the Army Corps of Engineers. He says it’s been rewarding to be a part of the project but it’s bittersweet to see it coming to an end. 

“Some of that equipment we custom built for this project served faithfully and reliably in advancing an unprecedented construction method. It’s a little bit bittersweet coming to the end of a project the scale of Olmsted.” 

Braden says the project should pay for itself in about five years because that section of the Ohio river provides about $640 million in net economic benefits to the country. Olmsted was originally slated for completion in 2013 and expected to cost $775 million. Project costs later increased to more than three billion dollars.

The cost grew because of a decision made in the late 1990s to use the “in-the-wet” construction process. That means lowering massive concrete building components into the Ohio River instead of a traditional cofferdam, which involves creating a dry space in the river to build.

Becca Schimmel is a Becca Schimmel is a multimedia journalist with the Ohio Valley ReSource a collaborative of public radio stations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. She's based out of the WKU Public Radio newsroom in Bowling Green.
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