The Ballard Locks have played a critical role in the rise of modern Seattle. Maintaining this essential, 100-year-old facility should be a high priority as the nation invests in critical infrastructure.
AS the nation toasts its independence this Tuesday, the Puget Sound region should also celebrate the 100th birthday of the Ballard Locks.
Officially the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, this gateway between Seattle’s major lakes and Puget Sound is essential infrastructure supporting thousands of jobs and $1.2 billion of economic activity per year.
Being 100 and the busiest locks in the United States takes a toll. Ancient machinery and closure systems need $30 million to $60 million worth of maintenance, including the emergency closure system on the large lock.
This work should be given a high priority when the Trump administration and Congress begin promised investments in national infrastructure.
Washington’s Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both Democrats, voiced their support with statements published Thursday in the Congressional Record.
“The Ballard Locks provide critical public safety and environmental functions, maintaining the water level of Lake Washington and Lake Union and preventing saltwater intrusion from Puget Sound into these freshwater lakes,” Cantwell’s statement read in part.
Such a facility would probably not be built today. Policy now favors restoring shorelines in the Puget Sound basin to their natural state versus engineering them to support human activity.
A century ago, the locks precipitated the loss of salmon habitat and the further displacement of Native American people. That historic decision can be second-guessed, even denounced.
However, the locks are now an essential part of the regional landscape. Their construction was a historical decision as irreversible as the construction of Interstate 5 through Seattle in the 1960s or the Denny Regrade in the early 1900s that leveled the ground beneath Amazon’s new headquarters buildings.
The locks enabled Ballard’s rise as the workshop and home port of much of the North Pacific fishing fleet.
By regulating the seasonal rise and fall of lakes Washington and Union, the locks led to the rise of communities and industry and the construction of floating bridges — on pontoons delivered via the locks.
As the locks were nearing completion and Lake Union’s industrial future was clear, William Boeing built his first plane in a boathouse on the lake.
Industry dependent on the locks has since created opportunity for generations of workers. It continues to support family-wage jobs at hundreds of companies.
Seattle wouldn’t be the Seattle it has become without the locks.
May the next 100 years prove as fruitful.