$1.5B Soo Locks project set to be done in 2030, officials say

Toledo — The decades-overdue overhaul of the Soo Locks is moving swiftly as the nearly $1.5 billion infrastructure project is on schedule to be completed by 2030 and will bolster commerce in Michigan and the Midwest, maritime industry leaders said Thursday.

A news conference held at the National Museum of the Great Lakes here showcased the project, which will construct a 1,200-foot-long lock to handle thousand-foot vessels as they pass through the Sault Ste. Marie area in the Upper Peninsula.

The Soo Locks, operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, allows cargo ships to traverse waterways between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes to deliver cargo like steel and ore to the region from Ohio to Michigan and elsewhere.

Improving the locks is “an efficiency issue, a resiliency issue” and is long overdue, said James Weakley, the president of the Lake Carriers Association based in Ohio. Built in 1855, the locks haven’t received a major upgrade in more than 50 years.

“It’s about ensuring the reliability of our supply chain, and it’s ensuring the capability of American manufacturing which includes steel manufacturing and all the industries it supports,” Weakley said.

The event featured the commander of the Detroit District Army Corps office, two port authority leaders from Toledo and Monroe as well as the head of a steamship company that used the locks.

Scott Katalenich, the commander of the Detroit Army Corp of Engineers office, said the bolstered locks project is critical to the likes of the automobile industry that allows important materials to be transported down through the Great Lakes.

“That is so important to our economy so that we can make high-strength steel,” Katalenich said. “It just goes to underscore the importance of another lock that is the same size and can accommodate those largest freighters on the lakes. As infrastructure ages, we have more repairs to do and more frequently.”

The Soo Locks project is being done in three major phases, the first being upstream channel deepening to 32 feet to allow bigger ships to pass through the locks, he said. When completed, more than 250,000 cubic yards of bedrock and overburdened materials will have been removed, he said.

The new lock will be 1,200 feet long and 110 feet wide, he said, and the project will support 1,200 jobs annually.

Other phases include the construction of upstream approach walls that would rehabilitate the channel walls. The project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2030.https://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/pdtn/sf-q1a2z3be0d353f.min.html

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

It is estimated the Soo Locks sees an estimated 70 million tons of cargo pass through each year with the support to 120,000 jobs and $22.6 billion in economic activity.

The building of a new lock was authorized in 1986 but funding was slow. In 2009, $17 million was appropriated to begin the initial work. The project was reauthorized in 2018 and has received over $411 million, including $52 million from the former Gov. Rick Snyder administration.

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