Federal Budget Outlines $480M for Soo Lock

TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2021

While the 2022 federal budget has a long path ahead before final approvals, President Joe Biden’s plan proposes $480 million in federal funding for the construction of Michigan’s Soo Locks.

The funding is a large chunk of the $595 million Biden has proposed for projects within the Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District.

About the Project

In June 2018, 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, former 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 $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 2020, 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.

A few months later, in May, construction officially kicked off for the project and was reported to involve the widening and deepening of the upstream approach channel to a depth of 30 feet above the decommissioned Davis and Sabin Locks. Work is anticipated to complete by November later this year.

Following the winter break, construction on the project resumed in April 2021, with the Corps reporting that the project was on schedule as construction resumed on phase one and preparations began for phase two. At the time, Trade West Construction, Inc., and joint venture Kokosing-Alberici had already begun moving equipment to the site.

“The Detroit District is looking forward to working with contractors Trade West and Kokosing-Alberici on phase one and phase two of the New Lock at the Soo,” said Lt. Col. Scott Katalenich, commander, USACE, Detroit District. “We recently had a partnering meeting with phase two contractors who are starting this year and are confident this project continues the successful construction of the new lock.”

Once 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. At the time, the Corps were 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. While the lock chamber was still being designed last spring, it was recently reported to have reached the 95% design milestone and plans to mirror the existing Poe lock. Bid solicitation should begin this summer with phase three construction starting in spring of 2022.

The entire project is still expected to reach completion by 2027.

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.

What’s Happening Now

Last year, the Soo Locks project was reported to have acquired roughly 25% ($241.6 million) of funding for the project’s development. If approved, however, Biden’s proposal of $480 million for the project would increase the percentage of acquired funds to 78% or $721.6 million of the $922 million project total.

Although Biden’s proposal outlines $595 million for projects within the Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, for high water studies and monitoring, beach nourishment, harbor dredging and flood risk management, among others, the budget also includes $6.793 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Program overall.

The budget is the largest annual budget ever proposed for the Army Corps.


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

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