Change of Current: a U.S. team’s river infrastructure project delivered long-term value

Novid Parsi, and PM Network

As the busiest inland commercial shipping route in the United States, the Ohio River is a valuable link in the country’s economy. More than 80 million tons of grain, coal and other commodities pass through each year—together worth more than US$22 billion. So when antiquated locks and dams at one juncture began causing serious transit delays decades ago, the U.S. government knew it had to fix the bottleneck as quickly as possible.

But the Olmsted Locks and Dam replacement project on the state border between Illinois and Kentucky proved anything but easy. The marathon megaproject, launched in 1988, encountered obstacles at every turn—spanning six U.S. presidents and tripling its original budget before finally being completed last year. Yet as the largest civil works project in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a PMI Global Executive Council member, the 30-year, US$3.1 billion initiative is being heralded a success by the government.

Faced with possible shutdown, the project team continuously adapted its plan and, by 2012, began to steer construction of two locks and a five-gate dam back on course. While racking up 45 million construction work hours, the team made strategic shifts and closely collaborated with contractor AECOM to ultimately create ways to save time and money—and earn praise from elected officials and other key sponsors.…


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