The busiest locks in the country (ours) needs money for improvements

Ballard Locks 100th Anniversary

SEATTLE — The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks turned 100 last year. This year, they’re asking for money for what they say are much-needed improvements.

On Tuesday, a group advocating for extra funding gave Seattle City Councilmembers an overview of the economic value of the Ballard Locks and it’s best arguments for why the locks need improvements.

A study prepared for the Seattle City Council found that the locks are the busiest in the nation in vessel transit and supports $1.2 billion in economic activity. It also brings in more than 1.25 million visitors, generating $38 million in visitor-related activity.

However, the way the Army Corps of Engineers prioritizes repairs put the Ballard Locks at a disadvantage. It's about weight.

Right now, approximately a million tons of boats, cargo, and goods go through the locks each year. It's a lot less than other locks around the country.

“If you compare it to an inland lock system, say on the Mississippi River that’s moving huge amounts of cargo through, agricultural cargo, aggregate cargo, really large stuff in huge barge tows, we can’t even compare to that,” said Charles Costanzo, Vice President, Pacific Region American Waterways Operators.

Costanzo suggests the Corps look at the number of openings and closings instead. The Ballard Locks have the highest numbers in the nation. 

The study also found environmental benefits as well. The locks, spillway and fish ladder safeguard more than $125 million in salmon habitat protection and restoration. It is also the only point of access and egress for salmon migrating in and out of the Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish watershed.

The locks also control water levels in Lake Washington and Lake Union to maintain the SR520 and I-90 floating bridges along with 75 miles of shoreline.

The money comes from President Donald J. Trump's budget and since they have been a lower priority, they hope this study and assistance from local lawmakers can push the Corps and the administration to fully fund projects that can keep the locks operating for the next century.