The New Lock at the Soo Artistic Rendering depicts how the Soo Locks will look once the New Lock at the Soo is complete in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

The New Lock at the Soo Artistic Rendering depicts how the Soo Locks will look once the New Lock at the Soo is complete in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Photo: USACE

Soo Locks Upgrade Reauthorized at $3.2 Billion Cost

Mike Schuler
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December 29, 2022

As the dust settles from President Biden’s signing of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2022 into law, we’re learning more about the projects that received funding and authorization.

One of them is the Soo Locks Upgrade, which involves construction a new, bigger lock at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Under the WRDA, the project has received reauthorization in the amount of $3.2 billion, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District announced this week.

An authorization sets how much money agencies and programs can receive, and how they should spend the money, making it possible for the project to maintain efficient funding eligibility. Due to recent cost increases, the project cost was estimated to exceed the previously authorized spending limit.

“With continued funding, the remaining construction work, valued at $794.5 million could be awarded over the next three years allowing the project to stay on schedule and be completed in 2030.” Deputy District Engineer Kevin McDaniels said.

Since the project’s authorization in America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, the authorized cost exploded from $922 million to $3.219 billion due to impacts by labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and material cost increases.

The Corps sought consideration of an increased authorized project cost in WRDA 2022 by transmitting the approved Post Authorization Change Report to the House and Senate Authorizations Committees on June 8, 2022, where the new plan received strong bipartisan support while going through both the House and Senate.

The Soo Locks are situated on the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and allow vessels to transit the 21-foot elevation change at the St. Marys Falls Canal. Over 88 percent of commodity tonnage through the Soo Locks is restricted by vessel size to the Poe Lock. The new lock project involves the construction of a second Poe-sized lock, measuring 110′ by 1,200′, on the existing decommissioned Davis and Sabin locks site.

The project’s long-awaited first phase to deepen the upstream channel began in spring of 2020 and has been substantially completed. The project’s second phase to rehabilitate the upstream approach walls began in spring of 2021 and is scheduled to be complete summer of 2024. The Phase 3 construction contract, which involves constructing the largest phase, the new lock chamber and rehabilitation of the downstream approach walls, was awarded in July in the amount of $1.068 billion. Phase 3 is expected to take around seven years to complete.

A 2015 Department of Homeland Security study estimates a six-month Poe Lock closure would temporarily reduce the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by $1.1 trillion, resulting in the loss of 11 million jobs.

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided nearly $479 million to finish a long-awaited new lock.

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