After more than 100 years of ushering boats to and from Puget Sound and Lake Union, the Ballard [Hiram M. Chittenden] Locks are finally receiving the upgrade they require. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded $10.5 million to the Ballard Locks to replace the original gates of the large lock chambers.
These locks are the busiest in the nation, seeing approximately 40,000 vessels, 150,000 salmon, and 1.2 million visitors every year. It’s no surprise that their wood and creosote lining, along with most of the structure, are all slowly withering away. Because the locks are free for public useage while their funding by the Department of Defense is determined solely on the amount of commercial cargo that passes through the gates (which is just a small fraction of the 40,000 vessels), an upgrade is long overdue.
The locks still boast the same valve technology – referred to as the Stoney Gate Valves – used to create the Panama Canal gate in 1910. Similar valves were used in Seattle for the Locks’ creation in 1917. However, the valves in the Panama Canal were replaced several years ago, while the Ballard Locks still await upgrades.
“The valves have been well maintained over the last 100 years,” says Operations Manager Jon Hofstra. “Although, it’s time. They’re past the life expectancy of this type of equipment and the saltwater environment has taken its toll as well.”
A year from now the large locks will undergo four closures totaling 45 days. The first closure is scheduled for October 12 to November 30, 2019. Expect subsequent closures February through April 2020, and again in October and November 2020. Final closures will take place in February 2021. Hofstra explains that the work must be done, regardless of its impact on boaters and especially, commercial vessels.
This year’s annual lock closures remain in effect from October 29 to November 21, 2018. During this closure, the large lock center gate bushing and gudgeon pin – the device used to support the locks’ crippling weight– will be replaced.