LOUISVILLE - A rehabilitation project at an Ohio River lock and dam is nearing completion more than two years after one of its massive gate doors fell off its hinge, causing months of river traffic delays.

The rehab was already under way at Markland Lock and Dam near Warsaw, Ky., when the 250-ton gate in the lock's main chamber failed in September 2009. The gate was rehung by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in about five months.

But the main lock was shut down again in July so workers could install newly fabricated gate doors. The Corps of Engineers has spent about $29 million on the repairs and rehab at Markland, which annually handles about 55 million tons of Ohio River cargo, half of it coal.

The 1,200-foot long main chamber lock was due to open this week, but weather has delayed the opening for a few weeks, said Carol Labashosky, a spokeswoman at the Corps of Engineers' Louisville District.

"They were supposed to open on Thanksgiving Day, and they know it's (now) going to be several more weeks," Labashosky said. But "they're well over the hump."

River traffic has been shifted to Markland's smaller, 600-foot long auxiliary lock during the shutdowns, which slows the movement of barges towing grains, rock and coal down the Ohio River. The small lock is half the length of the main channel, which means long barges have to be broken up to get through, causing hours of delays.

The main lock has been closed for a total of about nine months since the old gate door failed in 2009, Labashosky said.

"I have to say they've done a reasonable job of getting the traffic through," central Kentucky grain farmer Jim Barton said. "It hasn't quite been the bottleneck we envisioned when it first happened."

Barton said he thinks the delays added about a nickel of cost to each bushel of grain that went through during the slowdowns.

"It amounts to some money, but we were afraid at the time it was going to be more than that," said Barton, who has farms in Fayette and Scott counties.

Markland's four new gates were built in Oregon and floated through the Panama Canal, and up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to the lock.

About half of the locks along the Ohio River have exceeded their design life, according to the Corps of Engineers. Markland was built in 1959.

"Markland really symbolizes a big problem in the river shipping industry," said Jody Peacock, director of corporate affairs for Ports of Indiana, an Indianapolis semi-government agency that operates the state's ports.

Peacock said more federal funding needs to be devoted to the lock rehab projects and the maintenance that keeps others from failing.

"Unfortunately that's the world we live in right now with this (federal) budget," Peacock said. "It's a wait-until-it-fails to fix it."