The Kaskaskia River Valley has drawn people throughout history because of its abundant fertile agricultural land and convenient transportation. In a time when roads were very scarce and not maintained, the Kaskaskia River was the best means of transportation and also an avenue for the early fur traders into southwestern and central Illinois. Later the river was used to ship grain and in the early 19th century small steamboats were used to take out the soft wheat flour milled in towns along its banks, such as Evansville, New Athens, Fayetteville and Carlyle.
At that time the Kaskaskia River had been earmarked as a navigable stream by the U.S. Government up to mile 20 near Baldwin. During the late 18th century the U.S. Government made attempts to keep the stream in condition for navigation. Riverboats were the main source of transportation on the rivers and were vital links for getting goods to market. Riverboats did not have a long life expectancy due to collisions with other boats, river debris and sandbars as well as fires. In the early 19th century the State of Illinois allocated funds to eliminate navigation hazards of log jams and dead trees. Navigation flourished with large shipments going down the Kaskaskia River to the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. In 1870 the first railroads came to Southwestern Illinois, but the rivers remained the most effective for transportation.
The Kaskaskia River Basin is large, encompassing parts or all of 22 counties, with 30 main tributaries and 5,840 square miles of drainage. It is the major tributary of the Mississippi River, with headwaters just west of Champaign, and flows southwesterly across the state for approximately 325 miles to its confluence with the Mississippi River about eight miles north of Chester at river mile 117.
On January 27, 1956 the Kaskaskia Project was cited as a benefit to the entire area by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and approval for a comprehensive study was sent forward to the Governor of Illinois and then to the Budget Committee of Congress. The U.S. Bureau of Budget granted $15,000 for a feasibility study of the Kaskaskia Basin. The study proved very favorable and in June 1956 the Budget Bureau allotted $98,000 for a survey study of the basin. This plan was completed in 1957 and called for two large reservoirs, Carlyle Lake and Lake Shelbyville, and a series of levees at various points. This would provide flood control in the Valley, protection of life and properties and an aid to navigation on the Mississippi. Other important benefits: adequate and constant supply of water for both industrial and municipal purposes; raise water table to benefit agriculture; provide large recreation areas; provide camping and new hotels for tourists; attract new industries for employment; reforestation and abatement of stream pollution.
In October 1962 Representative Kenneth Gray announced the Kaskaskia Navigation Project with other projects in Southern Illinois, were authorized by Congress. On October 23, 1962 Public Law - The United States Congress River and Harbor Act of 1962 authorized the construction. Senate Document #44, Eighty-Seventh Congress est. the cost $58,200,000 for a navigation channel 9 feet deep, 200 feet wide, 36 miles in length from Fayetteville to the confluence of the Mississippi River with a single navigation lock of 84 feet wide and 600 feet long.
In late 1966, funds were appropriated by U.S. Congress and on September 28, 1967 the contract went to Massman Construction Co. of Kansas City, Missouri and the Al Johnson Construction Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota for $26,552,645. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on November 23, 1967 for the Kaskaskia Navigation Lock and Dam. It was estimated that 1.8 billion tons of coal lie within 15 miles of the river." The proposal was for a channel 225 feet wide and 9 feet deep, from the mouth of the river to Fayetteville, Illinois, 36 miles upstream. During the straightening of the River, four railroads and four highway bridges were constructed to provide passage over these new portions of the river. The Kaskaskia lock chamber has a maximum lift of a respectable 29.2 feet. It takes about 3.75 million gallons of water to make a 10-foot lockage in the 600x84 foot lock chamber. The project consists of one 600-foot lock; dam; gated spillway; 2,901 acres of fee and Operation and Maintenance easement lands and 5,593 acres of flowage easement.
Dedication of the Kaskaskia Lock & Dam was held on Saturday, July 20, 1974. This monumental Federal and State project, a landmark of progress, would now provide transportation by water for millions of tons of Southwestern Illinois coal, grain and other valuable commodities. The potential for industrialization of the Kaskaskia River Valley was compared to the Ruhr Valley of Europe. The first barge to lock through at the Kaskaskia Lock & Dam was in 1973. It was owned by Massman Construction Company.
The Kaskaskia River Project hosted a renaming ceremony Nov. 6, 2014, in honor of former U.S. Congressman Jerry F. Costello, a longtime advocate of the river and the communities that rely upon it. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 renamed the lock in recognition of his commitment to the Kaskaskia River watershed.
Lock & Dam: $ 29,789,000
Total Cost: $147,200,000
Federal Portion: $139,800,000