Additional Soo Locks Funding Approved
Further construction on the Soo Locks, located in Sault St. Marie, Michigan, was recently made possible when, late last month, President Donald J. Trump approved $75.3 million in funding for the design and construction of a new lock. Trump signed off on the funding approval on Dec. 20.
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.
Soo Locks Saga
First opened in 1855, the Soo Locks comprise of four total, but only two larger locks are in use by passing ships; the proposed project would replace the two unused tresses with one larger lock in order 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.
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.
In the fall of 2018, 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 ($8.4 million).
As of June 2018, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated the total cost of the locks project at $875 million. As envisioned by the Corps, the project 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. In the summer of 2017, the state of Michigan promised $50 million toward upgrading the locks.
To progress work on the Soo Locks, the USACE proposed spending the $75.3 million on the locks. Toward the end of March last year, the USACE held an open house in Detroit to update its current and upcoming projects, including the Soo Lock project’s construction status.
According to the Duluth News Tribune, the Poe Lock, more than 50 years old and running 1,200 feet long, closed down twice for repairs in August. Poe is also the only lock that can deal with 1,000-foot lakers. Out of the 80 million tons of cargo that come through the Soo Locks per year, roughly 90% of the freight that comes through the locks moves through the Poe, demonstrating the need for another, similar lock.
The $75 million recently approved will go toward funding deepening the upstream channel, wrapping up the design of upstream walls and furthering the development of the new lock’s design.
Currently, the MacArthur Lock is closed for the season, which will includes critical repairs. Poe is also closed for the season, but both are scheduled to reopen by late March. According to the Tribune, the Army Corps has indicated that the Soo Locks project could be finished by 2027, or as late as 2030.