The Army Corps of Engineers, District Detroit, said last week that phase one of an extensive, multiyear project to update existing locks and to create a new lock at the Upper Peninsula facility shifted into high gear on Sept. 8.
To start, Trade West Construction is deepening the north channel of the decommissioned Sabin Lock to a depth of 30 feet and positioning the materials to the northwest pier, which will eventually become a break wall for the new lock. The project, outlined in detail below, has a 2027 target date for completion.
The Soo Locks currently has one lock, the Poe Lock, that is capable of accommodating vessels up to 1,000 feet in length and 105 feet in width.
Since the Poe’s construction, Great Lakes fleets in the United States and Canada have replaced many of their older vessels with newer, larger vessels, most of which can only use the Poe because of their size.
As a result, 89 percent of all the cargo passing though the locks is restricted to using the Poe. According to the Corps, this critical dependency on the Poe presents a significant risk not only to Great Lakes shipping, but to the nation’s overall economy since mechanical failures or other causes at the lock would be felt throughout North America.
A second lock capable of handling large ships would alleviate this concerns and funding has finally been secured. Congress reauthorized construction of the new lock in October 2018 with an estimated project cost of $922.4 million (including $32 million spent prior to 2019).
The State of Michigan provided $52 million in December 2018 to help advance the project and allow it to rank more highly among national infrastructure needs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also received $32.4 million in federal funds for fiscal year 2019, and fiscal year 2020 budget included an additional $75.3 million.
The new lock will replace the closed Davis and Sabin locks, but will have the same dimensions as the Poe and will provide much needed redundancy for the aging Poe. The construction project consists of three main phases:
- Deepening the upstream approach channel (2020-2021).
- Rebuilding the upstream approach walls (2020-2022).
- Construction of the lock chamber (2022-2027).
This schedule assumes Congress will continue to provide efficient funding for the project.
More than 75 million tons of cargo and 3,000 cargo vessels pass through the locks annually. Owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lock system raises and lowers vessels approximately 21 feet to overcome the difference in elevation between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.