PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) on Thursday announced portions of the upper Mississippi River are getting upgraded locks and dams.

“You don’t need an engineering degree to know that the locks and dams really have been for many, many years in desperate need of updating and repair,” she said.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers allocated $829 million on Wednesday to modernize and restore locks and dams as part of the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), a long-term program of navigation improvements and ecological restoration for the Upper Mississippi River.

Bustos said NESP was initially authorized back in 2007, but this is the first time money has been allocated for a project.

“This is a generational investment, generational progress that we promised would come out of the infrastructure bill,” said Bustos, adding it’s the biggest investment since the system was built 100 years ago.

Most of the money, $732 million, is going to improve Lock and Dam 25, located near the Missouri and Illinois state borders, with a new 1,200-foot chamber.

Bustos said existing locks and dams were built to accommodate steamboats, not the massive 1,200-foot barges of today. They can only accommodate 600-foot barges safely.

“So that means every time you see the barges go through any of our locks and dams, they have to be decoupled and only half can go through at a time,” she explained.

That slow process can take two to three hours for each barge. The new chamber will cut that down to 45 minutes, according to Trazy Zea, president, and CEO of Waterways Council, an association that advocates for modern, efficient, and reliable inland waterway transportation systems.

“By modernizing lock and dam, you’re also gonna create about 10 million man-hours for skilled building trade jobs. But also, you’re going to create hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs around the community… It’s a very good thing for Illinois and the surrounding areas,” said Zea.

Bobby Frederick, senior vice president for legislative affairs and public policy at National Grain & Feed Association, said efficient waterways are crucial to the grain industry.

“If we didn’t have the waterways, it would take about 1000 more trucks on the highway to ship the same amount of grain that one full barge could do. That’s a lot more wear and tear on our highways. It’s more emissions and the rail rates for our members. If we didn’t have the waterways they would go sky-high, and it would be a fairly less competitive for us to ship via rail, so that’s why it’s so important,” he said. 

Bustos said the benefits of modernized locks and dams go beyond the waterways.

“The bottom line is, this investment will grow our economy. It will spur job creation. It will make our nation more competitive. It will help our climate by reducing transportation emissions, and it’s going to ensure that our American farmers can bring their goods to market faster and more efficiently, So it is a win, win, win, win for our entire nation,” said Bustos.