LAGRANGE, Ill. — Even the COVID-19 pandemic is not slowing down plans for construction work this summer on locks and dams along the Illinois River.
"Everything is moving along very well," said Mike Walsh, chief of locks and dams on the Illinois Waterway for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "Everything is still on schedule, but we're still at the mercy of Mother Nature."
Full closure of the LaGrange Lock and Dam is scheduled for July 1 to Sept. 30 for major rehabilitation and lock machinery replacement.
LaGrange is one of six locks scheduled for extended closure this summer as part of the corp's consolidated repair schedule, which also briefly closed two locks for preparatory work last summer and calls for two more closures in 2023.
Full and partial closures are planned this summer at Peoria Lock for dewatering for maintenance and inspection, Starved Rock for upper and lower miter gate installation, Marseilles for upper miter gate installation and Dresden Island and Brandon Road Lock and Dam for upper bulkhead recess installation.
"As far as LaGrange, the contractor is in the process of mobilizing back to the site to start the new construction season," Walsh said. "At all the other locks, they're in the process of mobilizing or will be mobilizing within the next week or two."
The COVID-19 pandemic should have no significant impact on the schedule, the amount of work or the project time line.
"Our number one priority is keeping our employees and contractors safe," Walsh said. "We're working with contractors and coming up with some COVID-19 response plans which basically outline some situations where some additional PPE (personal protective equipment) might be required and also some kind of health monitoring for employees to make sure everyone entering the work site is healthy and safe to be there."
LaGrange has the biggest scope of work of any of the projects including complete replacement of the lock and dam machinery, miter gate machinery, valve machinery for filling and emptying the lock, upgraded control systems and all the concrete walls.
Preparatory work began last year at the lock.
"Winter started off fairly mild for Illinois standards, and contractors were able to work well past Thanksgiving, which helped make up time for what was lost earlier due to extended high water," Walsh said. "It worked out well. They got enough done to meet the time line for this year."
Utilities were installed on the lock's river wall, and a lot of concrete was replaced last year, Walsh said, as a "substantial amount" of work was done in late summer, fall and into early winter.
The corps said simultaneously closing multiple locks will provide time for needed critical repairs and maintenance while reducing the impact to navigation.
Navigation on the rest of the river, between the locks, will not be affected by the closures. Recreational and commercial vessels will be able to navigate within the pools without restriction.
"Everything at this point is full steam ahead," Walsh said. "Hopefully we have a good year for construction. Hopefully Mother Nature cooperates and allows us to get this work done."