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Funding Proposed for MI Soo Locks Project

Friday, March 15, 2019

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To progress work on the Soo Locks, located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed spending more than $75.3 million on the locks next year. If approved, the money would be spent on a 1,200-foot-long lock. The funding request was submitted to President Donald J. Trump's request for the budget year.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, the funding would be enough to begin construction of the upstream approach walls, move forward the design for the new Soo Lock chamber and finish construction on the upstream channel deepening.

Soo Locks Saga

The locks, first opened in 1855, consist of four 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.

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.

Rendering courtesy of Army Corps of Engineers

The locks, first opened in 1855, consists of four 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.

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.

As of June 2018, the Army Corps of Engineers estimated that 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. Last summer, the state of Michigan promised $50 million toward upgrading the locks.  

Funding Proposal.

If the funding is approved, it would help keep the project on track for completion within seven to 10 years of construction beginning, noted Greg Turner, district engineer. The replacement lock was first authorized by Congress in 1986, but work has remained at a standstill for decades.

The new 1,200-foot-long lock would mirror the Poe, providing a degree of redundancy that would allow cargo to keep moving even if the Poe experienced an outage.

Last fall, the Army Corps allocated $32 million for some design and pre-construction work, which included deepening the upstream channel. If things move forward according to plan, channel deepening could be completed ($4.95 million), construction of the upstream approach walls could be started ($62 million) and design of the lock chamber could be continued ($8.355 million).

Each year of construction on the project will likely require the appropriation of additional funds. On Tuesday (March 12), the Army Corps of Engineers announced that the project had been included in the fiscal year 2020 president’s budget request to Congress.


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

Comment from Robert Bullard, (3/15/2019, 12:12 PM)

Completely wrong. Construct a modern canal and lock system through the farm fields west of Sault Ste. Marie, MI. - Add two major bridges (one for Interstate and one for MI highway) and a minor bascule for local road near river.) That way, all 'small' traffic uses the downtown canal and all big stuff, including future stuff bigger than present biggest stuff goes through the new canal with a lock much larger than anything downtown. Get it right the firs time, and for the next 100 years, even if more expensive going in. This is the same story with canals worldwide.

Comment from Tim Monaghan, (3/16/2019, 8:50 AM)

In whatever final version of this lock/canal becomes, I hope that preservation from corrosion is foremost on design engineers minds. Metalizing with pure zinc or a zinc aluminum coating on all surfaces prone to corrosion with increase the effective life cycle of those components by a factor of at least ten. Corrosion is the killer of steel in the environment and it needs to be addressed in the design stage.

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