First Tow Passes through Renovated Starved Rock Lock Signaling Official Reopening of the Illinois Waterway

The Illinois Waterway is a major shipping artery that provides a connection between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. Each year, barges carrying more than 29 million tons of commodities traverse the 336-mile-long waterway with the aid of eight lock and dam structures that help control navigable water levels. Most of these locks were originally constructed between 1910 and 1940. To facilitate planned maintenance and improvements to this critical infrastructure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) developed a consolidated closure schedule designed to lessen impacts to commercial navigation and the industries they serve.

Alberici played a key role during the recent 2020 closure, simultaneously refurbishing lock chambers at the Marseilles and Starved Rock locks. Both locks were originally constructed in 1933 and share similarly sized lock chambers measuring 600 feet long by 110 feet wide with upstream and downstream miter gates that that weigh between 140 and 240 tons each.

Alberici’s scope of work included removal and replacement of embedded quoin; replacement of miter gate anchorages, pintles and embedded frames; demolition and reconstruction of the gate control buildings and access staircases; modification of existing sills; and relocation of miter gate controls and electrical components to protect against 100-year flood events. Most of the work was performed from elevated lifts with limited workspace, requiring careful coordination between multiple trades to alleviate site congestion. Working in isolated areas, Alberici crews also installed embedded equipment within extremely tight tolerances of less than 1/16 of an inch.

All work was performed under an accelerated four-month schedule to achieve beneficial occupancy in advance of USACE’s scheduled reopening date. Failure to meet this date would have resulted in significant financial losses for commercial users of the inland waterway system. The scope and scale of the project in the compressed time frame presented significant challenges that were only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic and a high-water event that made the site inaccessible for two weeks. In response, Alberici crews worked around the clock, seven days a week to successfully meet USACE’s critical completion milestone.

On Oct. 29, USACE removed the bulkhead from the Starved Rock lock chamber, allowing water to flow back into the lock and resume commercial navigation.

“Alberici is proud to have had the opportunity to support of the Corps’ mission during the 2020 Illinois Waterway closure,” said Alberici Civil Market Leader, Fred Biermann. “The team’s ability to overcome several challenges and execute such a complex project in a small window of time speaks volumes of their skill and commitment.”

Project team members from both Alberici and USACE attribute their success to a shared commitment to collaboration. Designed to help align priorities and minimize conflict, the team participated in a series of formal partnering sessions that spanned the full duration of the project and included senior leadership from both Alberici and USACE. This commitment to working together toward a common set of goals significantly improved the project’s quality, safety, timeliness, and cost-effectiveness.

The Marseilles and Starved Rock Locks are the latest in a long line of successful marine construction projects that Alberici has completed on U.S. inland waterways. An Alberici joint venture recently completed construction of the new Olmsted Dam on the Ohio River. At $1.9 billion, Olmsted Dam is one of the largest civil works projects in USACE history. An Alberici joint venture is also preparing to mobilize for phase 2 of the new Soo Lock project in Sault Ste. Marie, Mi. and Alberici is currently performing a wide range of projects for public and private sector clients on the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers.

“The depth of Alberici’s experience working on, above, and below water allows us provide our clients with innovative solutions to some of their toughest challenges,” said Biermann. “Our ability to marshal resources and work collaboratively toward a common goal was on full display during the recent closures at Marseilles and Starved Rock and we’re looking forward to working on the next one to make sure it’s just as seamless.”