River Commerce Will Feel Squeeze When McAlpine Locks Close For Repairs

By Craig Hoffman

(LOUISVILLE, June 9th, 2004, 12:05 p.m.) -- Boaters on the Ohio River will see a big change from August 9th through the 22nd when the McAlpine Locks will be shut down for major repairs. The closure will be especially tough on towboats. As WAVE 3's Craig Hoffman reports, last year more than 56 million tons of cargo passed through those locks.

It takes a little less than an hour for a full tow or 15 barges tied together to pass through the McAlpine Locks. The locks are actually gates that open and close so barges and other vessels can pass. They can also be raised and lowered to the right water levels.

But Charlie Haddaway with the Army Corp. of Engineers says the locks are just worn out. "They tell me that gate has been there for 40 years, and is just now starting to crack, so that's what they want to repair."

Word is being sent to businesses across the region that the facility will be shut down for up to two weeks beginning August 9th.

Engineer Dave Klinstiver says the closure could mean more trucks on the interstates. That's because the amount of cargo carried on "one single full towboat is the equivalent of 870 truckloads. Now with an average of about 15 tows a day that travels through McAlpline, that equates to over 13,000 trucks a day that are not on the interstate highway system."

Normally there are two locks open for traffic. But only one is operating now as a $339 million renovation project that started a few years ago continues. When complete in 2008, Louisville will have two locks, both 1,200 feet long.

When that happens, Klinstiver says "We're anticipating naturally the amount of cargo will continue to increase -- I think the number is something like $74 million in the next few years.

Isaac Neal is one of more than 200 construction workers involved in the project. He remembers swimming nearby and has a special fondness for the locks. "We're right next to the locks where we can just practically talk to the guys on the barges. And it's amazing."

Towboats may be a less expensive way to move cargo but those boats also bring money to Louisville and the region.

The first locks were built way in 1830, when mules were used during construction. This is the sixth mayor change and one that should last for decades to come.

Online Reporter: Craig Hoffman

Online Producer: Michael Dever