Lakes-to-Gulf Deep Waterway

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LAKES-TO-GULF DEEP WATERWAY. In 1673, Louis Jolliet noted the favorable possibilities for a canal to connect the Great Lakes with the Des Plaines, Illinois, and Mississippi rivers. Both Albert Gallatin and Peter B. Porter, in the early 1800s, urged the actual construction of a canal. Aided by a right-of-way and a land grant provided by Congress, the state of Illinois completed the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848. The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, completed in 1900 and extended in 1910, rendered obsolete the first thirty-mile section of this waterway. Sponsored by the Chicago Sanitary District, this new canal had a width of more than one hundred sixty feet and a depth of twenty-four feet. Its construction gave additional impetus to the long-standing movement to develop a Lakes-to-Gulf deep waterway. In 1889, the legislature of Illinois had suggested a channel depth of fourteen feet, but some groups active during the transportation crisis of 1906–1907 and the conservation movement of 1908 demanded the additional ten feet. Congress refused to provide federal support for these proposals. Consequently, in 1921, the state of Illinois started construction, made possible by a $20 million bond issue authorized in 1908, of five locks and four dams between Lockport and Utica. In 1930, the federal government took over the project and completed it three years later with a channel depth of nine feet.

Dredging and construction achieved a similar minimum depth in the Illinois Waterway below Utica and in the Mississippi River to Cairo, Illinois. Locks and dams at Peoria, La Grange, and Alton, Illinois, were completed during 1938–1939. Near Saint Louis, Missouri, a lateral canal with locks opened in 1953, and a dam was finished in 1964. Improvement of the Calumet-Sag route from the sanitary canal to Lake Calumet, begun in 1955, was scheduled for completion in 1977. This segment is now

the primary connection of the Illinois Waterway to Lake Michigan.

Six additional large locks and other improvements are planned for the section of the waterway between Lockport to La Grange. Construction of a new dam and large twin locks at Alton has been proposed. These new authorizations, proposals, and studies are in part related to the great achieved and expected increases in barge traffic. Factors contributing to this growth include the economic expansion of the areas adjacent to the waterway and the substantial improvement in the efficiency of barges, towboats, and related equipment. In the early 2000s, domestic waterborne shipping accounted for about 14 percent of the United States' internal cargo transportation, at less than 2 percent of the annual costs. The waterway created by connecting the Mississippi to Lake Michigan forms a vital link in this transportation network.


Shaw, Ronald E. Canals for a Nation: The Canal Era in the United States, 1790–1860. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990.

MarcusWhitman/a. e.; s. c.

See alsoCanals ; Chicago ; Sanitation, Environmental .

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Lakes-to-Gulf Deep Waterway

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