Soo Lock Construction to Begin Spring 2020
In following the award of an almost $53 million contract with Trade West Construction Inc. (Mesquite, Nevada), the Detroit District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced that work on the new Soo Locks, located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, will break ground this upcoming spring.
The first phase of construction will take two years to complete and involves deepening the upstream approach channel.
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.
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.
What’s Happening Now
Starting in the spring, Trade West Construction Inc. will begin deepening the upstream approach channel to a depth of 30 feet—the project’s first phase which slated to take two years to complete.
"This is an exciting time for the Corps and the Great Lakes," said Lt. Col. Greg Turner, district engineer. "We look forward to working with the contractors and meeting all the milestones in this first phase of the project, which is critical to the success of the entire project."
According to UpNorthLive, the Corps report that the second phase will involve the construction of upstream approach walls, which will stabilize the existing approach walls, allowing for larger vessels to to pass through the new lock. Although still in the design phase, the phase is expected to be advertised to bid this month.
The third phase of the project will involve the construction of the new lock chamber and will involve the rehabilitation of the downstream approach walls. Also in the design phase, the Corps hope to have this phase of the project out for bid in the spring of 2021.
"Contingent on efficient funding, the New Lock at the Soo project, estimated to cost nearly $1 billion, could be complete in as few as seven years from the start of construction," said Mollie Mahoney, project manager.