The work has been going on for twelve years. The cost has surpassed $450 million. The economic impact for Louisville and the nation is astronomical. We’ve all seen it, but no one really knows much about it. The McAlpine Locks, located at the foot of 27th Street north of Northwestern Parkway, are scheduled to open in the Spring of 2009, and has been one of the largest ongoing construction projects in the city.
The project includes the removal of two small locks and the construction of a new 1200 foot by 110 foot lock to match the existing main lock. These locks can handle a fully loaded 15-barge tow in a single passage, saving hours each time a large boat passes through. In 2006, 55.6 million tons of goods worth $11.5 billion traversed the McAlpine Locks, descending around 37 feet from the upper pool the the lower pool of the Ohio River. With the addition of a second major lock, those numbers can be expected to increase.
As part of the project, the original sandstone lock dating from 1931 was removed to make way for the larger, modern lock. The Corps of Engineers has saved many of the stone blocks that made up the lock walls and resurrected them as a monument in the future visitor’s center park along with several artifacts related to river commerce. The McAlpine Locks are one of the only such systems to be located in an urban area and the project architects and engineers paid special attention to pedestrian and aesthetic concerns. A new bridge providing access to Shippingport Island features “aesthetic screening”, giving the appearance of a suspension bridge and a new pedestrian overlook will allow future visitors to peer over the lock walls as barges pass through. The new lock is functional but still in testing phases as the finishing touches are applied to the overall complex.
While the entire area around the McAlpine Locks is subject to strict security clearance, when the project is done early next year, visitors will be able to walk, bike, or drive across the new bridge to Shippingport Island for fishing or boat launching. The views up- and down-river from the bridge are quite beautiful, and the entire visitor’s center will be tied into the RiverWalk bike and walking trails.
Broken Sidewalk gained special behind the scenes access to the construction site and have posted photos (after the click) detailing the lock construction including inside the secure Lock Control Tower and along the new lock walls and hydraulic powered gates. Be sure to notice the escape hatch inside the control tower. Since the locks are operational all day, every day, you might just need to escape in the event of a catastrophic flood.