Corps of Enigneers reopens main chamber at Mel Price Locks

Published Aug. 8, 2014

Alton, Ill. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District reopened the main lock chamber to river traffic at Melvin Price Locks and Dam today after completing emergency repairs to one of the busiest locks on the Mississippi River.


The main 1,200-foot lock chamber at Alton, Ill., was closed late December due to a series of failures of the steel cables that hoist one of the lock’s upstream lift gates, allowing the vessels to transit the lock. The lock is a key part of a national inland waterways transportation system and critical to the economics generated by the waterways. Barges move more than 566 million tons of cargo on the nation’s inland waterways, creating an economic impact of more than $180 billion annually. Mel Price Lock and Dam passes roughly 50 million tons of commodities annually, most of it grain headed for export. Other major cargoes include stone, chemicals, petroleum products and coal.


Three cable failures occurred since September, according to Andy Schimpf, St. Louis District Navigation Manager. The third failure occurred Dec. 28, and engineers determined that operating the leaf of the upstream vertical lift gate would be unsafe, prompting the closure of the lock. An investigation determined that the cables failed as a result of severe corrosion near the connection point of the gate, an area which is always underwater. Over time, corrosion caused individual strands of the cable to break until finally the entire cable severed.


New, stainless steel cables – 108 assemblies in total – were ordered to replace the galvanized cables. During the manufacturing and testing of the new cable assemblies, crews from the St. Louis District’s Service Base and other locks converged on Mel Price Lock and Dam to perform as much needed maintenance as possible. 


“While the main lock chamber was dewatered, our crews performed any repairs we could while we had access, and made sure that we would be ready to install the cables as soon as they were delivered,” said Mike Quinn, Central Area Navigation Manager for the St. Louis District. “We also increased inspections and monitoring of all the critical components on the 600-foot auxiliary lock to make sure it performed reliably and traffic could keep moving on the river.”


The total cost of the repairs was approximately $4 million, which includes dewatering the chamber, testing and inspections, the cable supply contract, installation of the cables, and other minor repairs in the chamber. The work was funded from the Corps’ Fiscal Year 2014 operations and maintenance funds.


“Other critical backlog maintenance work had to be deferred because of the resources needed to get Mel Price repaired under emergency conditions,” said Schimpf. “In this case we have delayed a contract to replace 80-year-old hoisting chains on gates at Locks 24 and 25. This is one of the normal challenges of managing aging infrastructure with limited funds.”
Mike Petersen

Release no. 14-066