Bill seeks to help with backlog of lock and dam maintenance

By Audrey Williams

March 22, 2013 Updated Mar 22, 2013 at 10:50 PM CDT

CREVE COEUR, Ill -- Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is pushing a bill that would look outside the box to help repair our aging water infrastructure. It looks into public-private partnerships that would allow alternatives to traditional financing, planning and construction for much needed improvement projects.

Each year millions of products like fuel, grain, and steel travel along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Critical upgrades are needed to keep those goods moving.

Mike Zerbonia is in charge of maintaining the 8 locks and dams in Illinois; seven of them were built nearly 75 years ago.

"A lot of them have had work done on them, but no major rehabs on them," said Zerbonia.

Zerbonia said Illinois' lock and dam system has currently about a half a billion dollars in maintenance backlogs.

At Peoria's lock and dam he said millions of dollars in improvements are needed.

"We need concrete work done at most of the locks. We need the replacement of miter gates that let the barges in. We need the replacement of dam gates that control the water levels, and machinery and electrical work on most all the locks," he said.

Besides some hazards for workers, the structures are not a safety concern right now for the general public, according to Zerbonia. But that's not enough for some lawmakers from Illinois who see upgraded infrastructure as vital to the economy, and the federal government just doesn't have the resources.

"Any money that we would get, funding, would be appreciated," he added.

The bill is just another way the federal government will continue to look for innovative financing in these tough fiscal times.

There is no indication on who these private interests may be. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public works Committee.