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MI Promises Funding for Soo Locks Expansion

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

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The state of Michigan has promised $50 million toward a massive project that supporters hope will expand the historic Soo Locks and allow more ship traffic through the St. Mary Falls Canal between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

State officials and members of Congress representing Michigan are pushing for an upgrade to the locks, first opened in 1855. The structure consists of four locks total, but only the two larger locks are in use by passing ships; the proposed project would replace the other two with one larger lock to accommodate larger vessels.

Poe Lock
C. Paris, US Army Corps of Engineers

The largest of the Soo Locks, the Poe, carries most of the iron used in steel production in the Great Lakes region.

According to the Detroit Free Press, 80 million tons of cargo pass through the locks annually on 8,000 freighters; a bipartisan group of legislators has coalesced around the cause of improving the aging structure in order to keep goods moving on the Great Lakes.

Bills are expected to be introduced in both houses of Congress this week calling for upgrades to the locks; similar legislation was introduced a year ago by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, and referred to committee. Language supporting updates to Soo Locks was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2019; Bergman noted that “any unscheduled outage of the Locks would threaten our national economy, and in turn, our national security."

Crucial to Steel Industry

A 2015 study published by the Department of Homeland Security found that a shutdown of Poe lock, the largest of the four locks at Soo, would limit the shipping of iron and essentially halt all steel production in the Great Lakes region. That, DHS said, would lead to a complete stoppage in production of appliances, automobiles, construction equipment, farm equipment, mining equipment and railcars within weeks.

Rendering of Soo Locks expansion
Rendering courtesy of Army Corps of Engineers

The project would take out the two smaller locks and replace them with one new lock the size of the Poe.

The most recent working estimate issued by the  Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the locks, puts the total cost of the locks project at $875 million. The project as envisioned by the Corps would involve replacing the two smaller locks with one new lock the same size as the Poe, 100 feet wide by 1,200 feet long.

   

Tagged categories: Government; Immersion service; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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