Corn Belt Ports: Navigation Improvements are Finally Underway: Lock and Dam 14 Mooring Cell Groundbreaking

Boats traveling upriver will have a spot to tie off as they wait to travel through the lock and dam system on the Mississippi River near Pleasant Valley and East Moline.

City, state, and federal officials held a groundbreaking ceremony (on land) Wednesday near Lock & Dam 14 to mark the start of construction.

A 30-foot cylindrical "mooring cell" will allow vessel operators to tie off as they wait their turn through the lock system, saving fuel from idling engines and preventing disruption of riverbank ecosystems.

The new cell "provides those navigating up and and down the river, whether it's a huge tow or a small recreational boat, a place to tie up to to save fuel to remain safe while they're waiting to lock through Lock 14," said Colonel Jesse T. Curry, commander and district engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island.

The $2.3 million project is funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law Congress passed in late 2021. That infused about $820 million into projects on the Mississippi River through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), which was first authorized in 2007.

The mooring cell is among the smaller projects on the river between the Twin Cities and St. Louis — a bulk of the budget will go toward a $732 million lock planned near St. Louis.

"This is one of several mooring cells that we're building up and down the Mississippi River," Curry said. "But this one here is the first, and we're proud to get it started."

U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Illinois, called the new investment a critical part of modernizing the river's lock and dam system.

"I'm proud to support in Congress this investment and the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program, or NESP, which ensures that the investments that we make today will pay off many times over for the generations to come," Sorensen said.

Iowa relies on riverways to transport agricultural and manufactured goods produced in the state, Iowa Department of Transportation Director Scott Marler said. He said a single 15-barge tow moved the same amount of cargo as 1,050 large semis, or about 14 miles of semis, bumper-to-bumper.

Operators will be able to wait 2.2 miles closer to Lock & Dam 14, Marler said, saving an estimated 217 hours of time per year.

"This new mooring cell represents an investment now that will benefit our region for years to come," he said. "It will save time for lock exchanges, improve safety for tow operators, reduce fuel, save money, and decrease environmental impacts."

Construction is expected to wrap up before it snows, said Andrew Goodall, a Corps employee who manages the region's NESP projects.

There is funding for designing mooring cells at Locks 13 and 15, too, he said. But construction is not yet funded. Additional funding must be determined by Congress.