$479M Funding Awarded for Soo Lock Project


The nearly $1.5 billion Soo Locks project has been fully funded thanks to additional funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, using $479 million of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ $561 million received funds for the fiscal year in Michigan and on the Great Lakes.

“After a hard-fought effort, we finally have full funding of the Corp’s budget to finish building the new lock at the Soo Locks. In Michigan, we know how vital the Locks are to our economy and our national defense,” said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow in the announcement. “We also know that we are on borrowed time until something happens that shuts them down. Thanks to our bipartisan efforts in Congress, and with the President’s leadership, we are able to finish this project as soon as possible.”

According to the release, this funding could also put the project ahead of schedule by as much as two years and is one of the largest amounts ever budgeted for a single Army Corps construction project in one year. The new lock is currently in Phase 2, with the Phase 3 construction of the lock chamber expected to be awarded in spring 2022.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law is delivering for Michiganders with this significant investment in the Soo Locks – an economic and national security priority for Michigan and our nation,” said Senator Gary Peters. “With some of the pumps operating the locks being more than 100 years old, it was long overdue that we modernize such a critical piece of our infrastructure and ensure sustainability for the future.

“Building a new lock will make our supply chains more resilient and bolster commerce on the Great Lakes – and I was proud to help pass the legislation making this necessary upgrade closer to a reality.”

The Army Corps announced that it received $17.1 billion in total funds from the infrastructure bill across its programs, projects and activities over the next five years. Funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is allocated one year at a time, so the Army Corps says more funding for 2023 and 2024 is “likely” but will be determined at a later date.

“The IIJA funding is for major Civil Works mission areas, including navigation, aquatic ecosystem restoration and flood damage reduction,” said Detroit District Deputy District Engineer Kevin McDaniels. “The majority of money the Detroit District is receiving will fund construction of the New Lock at the Soo project.

“The Soo Locks are nationally critical infrastructure, and their reliability is essential to U.S. manufacturing and National Security. A failure of the Poe Lock would have significant impacts to the U.S. economy, especially the steel industry.”

Currently, the Soo Lock is closed until late March for critical maintenance and due to the federally regulated operating season. The winter period is used to perform upkeep, such as inspections, structural repair and seal replacement, concrete repairs, dewatering system maintenance and floating plant maintenance.

According to the Army Corps, the second year of upstream channel deepening for the new lock completed in mid-December, excavating about 150,000 cubic yards of Jacobsville sandstone to deepen the north canal enough for the 1,000-foot ships that will use it. This deepening work will resume in the spring.

Stabilization of the existing upstream approach walls was also completed, with an onsite concrete batch plant being installed with 26 coffer cells and 13,000 cubic yards of concrete. The work on the upstream approach walls will also continue next season.

Project Background

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.

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.

In June, President Joe Biden’s 2022 federal budget plan proposed $480 million in federal funding for the construction of Michigan’s Soo Locks. The funding was a large chunk of the $595 million Biden has proposed for projects within the Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District.

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 outlined $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 included $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.

In November, officials announced that the project was on track to reach completion by 2030. A news conference was held at the National Museum of Great Lakes in Toledo, Ohio to update on the lock system’s progress, with port authority leaders from Toledo Monroe, the Detroit District Army Corps office and the head of the steamship company that uses the locks.

“Having a new Soo Lock that has the same dimensions of the Poe and able to accommodate those largest freighters on the lakes will give us a great deal of resiliency and the ability to increase the time periods in which we do necessary repairs or maintenance or rehabilitation throughout the year,” said Lt. Col. Scott Katalenich, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District at the conference.

According to Katalenich, the project consists of three phases:

  • Phase 1: Deepening the upstream channel to 32 feet and removing more than 250,000 cubic yards of bedrock and overburdened materials, scheduled to be completed in 2022;
  • Phase 2: Rehabilitation of the channel walls and other lock aspects, scheduled to be completed in 2024; and
  • Phase 3: Construction of the new lock chamber, contract expected to be awarded in February and completed by fall of 2030.

“But we are optimistic that with good weather, we may be able to beat that,” Katalenich said.

The new Soo Lock will reportedly be 1,200 feet long and 110 feet wide, with the creation of 1,200 jobs annually. Port authority leaders from Toledo and Monroe at the event also stressed the importance of the project in regards to the ongoing supply chain disruption.



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

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