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Soo Lock Construction Kicks Off

Friday, May 15, 2020

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Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially kicked off construction efforts at the $922 million Soo Lock project in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

“It’s incredible that we’re starting this construction a year earlier than even the most optimistic projections when the project was re­authorized in 2018,” Lt. Col. Gregory Turner of the Corps said in a statement. “Getting the first phase started sets the conditions for the project’s ultimate completion.”

About the Project

In June 2018, state of Michigan announced its promise of $50 million toward the massive project which would expand the historic Soo Locks—which allow ship traffic through the St. Mary Falls Canal between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. The decision came after a study published by the Department of Homeland Security in 2015 revealed 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.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially kicked off construction efforts at the $922 million Soo Lock project in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

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 new lock the same size as the Poe, 100 feet wide by 1,200 feet long, to accommodate larger vessels. At the time, the project was estimated to cost $875 million.

In the fall, the Army Corps allocated $32 million for some design and pre-construction work, which included deepening the upstream channel.

The following year in March, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed spending more than $75.3 million on the locks in 2020 and announced that the project had been included in the fiscal year 2020 president’s budget request to Congress.

At the end of the month, the Corps held an open house in Detroit to update its current and upcoming projects, including the Soo Lock project’s construction status. While primary construction was reported to begin in spring 2020, work to prepare the shipping channels for renovations is estimated to bring in over 1,000 quality jobs over the next decade would begin that summer.

Through the combined commitments made by the state and USACE, taxpayers were also informed that they would save an estimated $30 million, accelerating the project's completion likely by one year. In addition, the new Soo “Super Lock” would also allow the maintenance on the other two locks any time of the year, instead of prolonging the repairs until the next winter shutdown.

On Dec. 20, President Donald J. Trump signed an approval of funding, totaling $75.3 million for the design and construction of a new lock. According to SooToday, the U.S. Senate approved the funding the day before Trump signed. The expansion was initially approved in 1986, but project delays have persisted.

The $75 million approved was reported to go toward deepening the upstream channel, wrapping up the design of upstream walls and furthering the development of the new lock’s design.

At the time of the announcement, the MacArthur Lock was closed for the season, and was receiving critical repairs. Poe was also closed for the season, but both were scheduled to reopen by late March. According to the Tribune, the Corps indicated that the Soo Locks project could be finished by 2027, or as late as 2030.

In February, the Corps announced that Trade West Construction Inc. would begin deepening the upstream approach channel in the spring. At the beginning of May, dredging equipment started to arrive for the first phase of the project.

What’s Happening Now

Trade West has begun widening and deepening the upstream approach channel to a depth of 30 feet above the decommissioned Davis and Sabin Locks with an anticipated November 2021 project completion date.

After the initial dredging phase is completed, crews are then slated to rehabilitate the existing approach walls further upstream in order to make them modern and safe for future vessel and ship passage. The Corps are currently soliciting contractors for this phase of the project.

Finally, the third phase will see construction of a new lock chamber, in addition to further rehabilitation of downstream walls and finishing work.

However, the lock chamber is still being designed, but plans to mirror the existing Poe lock. The entire project is still expected to reach completion by 2030. Thus far, 25% ($241.6 million) in funding has been acquired for the development.

Once completed, the new passage will reportedly be able to accommodate 1,000-foot lakers—a common transport for Minnesota- and Michigan-based taconite shipping to steelmakers. According to Star Tribune, the Soo Locks are responsible for $17.4 billion in economic activity every year, with over 80 million tons of cargo passing through.

Although, the new lock is expected to provide $77.4 million in annual benefits and benefit-cost ratio of 2.32 at a 7% discount rate.

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 9 a.m., May 18, 2020, to add that the taconite referrenced in this feature is from both Minnesota and Michigan.


Tagged categories: Design build; Government; Government contracts; Locks and dams; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Ships and vessels; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Comment from Dave Wonnacott, (5/15/2020, 4:32 PM)

Near the end the article says.....common transport for should say Minnesota and Michigan based taconite.

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