BL Duke River Terminal prepares for Illinois Waterway reopening

Written by Nick Blenkey
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The BL Duke River Terminal, a division of BL Duke, is planning to resume normally scheduled business as repairs to the Illinois Waterway near completion. Northbound traffic from the Port of New Orleans to destinations above La Grange Lock resumed in early October, and southbound traffic from Chicago to destinations south of La Grange Lock is expected to resume the first week of November.

In anticipation of the reopening, BL Duke River Terminal, a barge and rail terminal located in Joliet, Ill., has been coordinating projects with existing and new clients as well as improving infrastructure, including upgrading climate control in its 250,000-square-foot warehouse, improving its customer portal, and performing needed maintenance on critical equipment.

“We’re looking forward to picking up where we left off with existing customers, growing existing business, and welcoming new customers. We don’t anticipate the market going back to pre-pandemic/pre-closure levels, but we’re looking forward to adjusting to a ‘new normal,'” said Vice President of Business Development Bri Binnie.

In addition to market demand pressures and COVID-19 impact, the scheduled closures to these locks have significantly affected recyclers and terminal services companies. As the Midwest is a hub for U.S. manufacturing, barges are relied upon for cost effective, efficient flow of goods. One 15-barge tow can transport the equivalent of 216 railcars or 1050 truckloads—and for a fraction of the freight expense.

Although the work occurred from July through October, the flow of goods stopped at the beginning of June in order to get vessels off that portion of the river and goods will not actually arrive into the Chicagoland area until mid-to-late November. However, while there’s short-term impact, the repairs come with long-term benefits that will improve the future flow of business.

“It’s exciting that the Army Corps is rebuilding the lock and dam system on the Illinois River. Updated infrastructure and technology will make barge freight more efficient and reliable by decreasing lock-through times and closures. These improvements are long overdue,” said BL Duke President Lou Plucinski.

The reopening signals a new chapter in the business. Parent company BL Duke is celebrating a big milestone this month—its 20th anniversary.

“We’ve seen cycles like this before. But we’re resilient. Our innovative, forward-thinking team has worked hard to welcome back customers and bring new ones into the fold,” said Plucinski .

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