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First of 61 Concrete Monoliths Completed at New Kentucky Dam Lock

John Null/WKMS

A major milestone was achieved Wednesday in the completion of a new navigational lock at the Kentucky Dam.

Crews finished work on the first of 61 massive concrete monoliths that will make up the walls of the lock. Once completed, the new lock will free up the bottleneck in traffic on the Tennessee River.

Progress has been slow since the project’s inception in 1998, but U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Don Getty says that things are moving swiftly now. He attributes this escalation to an increase in the marine diesel fuel fee which funds the Inland Waterways Trust Fund - where the project gets 50 percent of its funding. The other factor: Ballard County's Olmsted Locks and Dam project’s trust fund cost share being reduced from 50 to 15 percent as part of last June's Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

“That project was using just about all of the available monies in the trust fund and by changing the cost share, that freed up many millions of dollars as well," Getty said. "Both of those are huge watershed events that are going to change the dynamics of future funding for Kentucky Lock.”

Credit John Null/WKMS
Don Getty speaks to reporters at Wednesday's top-out ceremony at Kentucky Dam.

  Getty said that as construction crews build the first phase of these monoliths, the Corps is looking toward future stages of the project.

“We’ve built one cofferdam, our upstream cofferdam, which is a temporary dam, and we still have a downstream cofferdam to build so we can de-water the area and build the rest of the lock," Getty said. "So that’s our next construction contract and we hope to award that this summer, if we get funding.”

North Carolina-based Thalle Construction Company is building the first nine of the 61 monoliths. They were awarded the $97 million contract in January 2010 and began pouring concrete in May 2012, according to Thalle's Brian Sharp. He said the company hopes to continue work on the lock as more contracts are awarded. Getty said the remaining 52 monoliths could be included in the same contract.

The total cost for the project is $862 million, with $392 million spent to date. The earliest completion date for the new lock is 2023.

John Null is the host and creator of Left of the Dial. From 2013-2016, he also served as a reporter in the WKMS newsroom.
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