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Development of a New Soo Lock

This grant will support the rebuilding of Michigan’s Soo Locks, which will help bring cargo ships from Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes more efficiently, quickly, and safely.

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A vessel pulls into Duluth Harbor, Minnesota, on September 1, 2020. (Getty/Alex Kormann)
Snapshot
  • Project name: New Soo Lock

  • Program: Water Resources Development Act

  • Law: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)

  • Recipient: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District

  • Investment amount: $478.9 million from the IIJA; $214.2 million from the 2022 IIJA addendum

  • City: Sault Ste. Marie

  • State: Michigan

  • Congressional district: 1 (Michigan geographic information system data; project map)

  • Construction start date: Phase 1 completed in 2022; Phase 2 to be completed in summer 2024; and Phase 3 to be completed in 2030

This profile is part of a project that finds and tracks the public and private sector investments generated or supported by three of the Biden administration’s economic laws. These laws make investments in the American people, helping to grow the middle class, lowering the cost of living, and setting up America to better compete and cooperate in the world. Pulling directly from several sources, this catalog provides users with publicly available information such as the number of jobs created, workforce training partnerships, and storytellers benefiting from particular projects, among other detailed information. The profile below expands on the economic, practical, and climate impacts of just one of the 35,000 investments that can be found in the Biden Administration Investment Tracker. It may be updated to account for future project developments.

Explore the tracker

More than $650 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law through the Water Resources Development Act and the 2022 addendum to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be used to fund a project to fix the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, a point of connection between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes for bulk carrier vessels. The locks have not been updated in 60 years. As the locks are supposed to be updated every 10 years, this work is long overdue for ensuring safety and economic efficiency.

Historical context

The Soo Locks are a critical shipping connection in the Great Lakes:

  • “The Soo Locks complete more than 7,000 vessel passages a year, moving up to 75 million tons of cargos. Moving bulk cargos through the Soo Locks and across the Great Lakes saves more than $3.9 billion per year in freight costs compared to moving the same tonnage by rail or truck. One 1,000-foot vessel can carry the equivalent of seven 100 car trains with a 10,000-ton capacity or 3,000 large trucks with a 25-ton capacity each.” – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 20, 2022
  • The locks are “on the international border with Canada.” – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, last accessed March 2023
  • This Great Lakes Navigation System critical node is essential to U.S. manufacturing and national security. ­– TV6, December 27, 2022

Fixing the Soo Locks is very popular with Michigan voters:

  • “An overwhelming majority of Michigan voters support fixing the Soo Locks. 78.3% of Michigan voters say that funding and fixing the Sault Ste. Marie Locks is urgent or very important, and 15.3% said it is important, but there are other priorities (4.3% no response).” – Detroit Regional Chamber, July 25, 2019

Project summary

A new lock that can handle large ships is badly needed:

  • There are three locks at this location, and only one—the Poe Lock—can currently handle very large ships. The new lock will also be able to handle large ships. The other two smaller locks “are too shallow for most modern vessels,” and one has been inactive since 1989. – Daily Press, January 23, 2022
  • Multiple locks at one point are needed so that ongoing maintenance and rehabilitation can be carried out without interrupting operations. A new lock is typically added every few decades. “Up until now the biggest gap was 24 years” between additions of new locks. The most recently built lock is from 1968 and will be 62 years old upon completion of the new lock. – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 20, 2022
  • “Often called the ‘linchpin’ of the Great Lakes navigation system, the Soo Locks are located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan between the upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. The Soo Locks enable bulk carrier vessels to safely bypass the swift-moving St. Marys River rapids where the water drops 21 feet over bedrock in a three-quarter mile stretch. The St. Marys River is the only connecting waterway between Lakes Superior and the lower Great Lakes.” – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 20, 2022

The project is divided into three phases and has multiple funding streams:

  • “In 2022, the New Lock at the Soo received $478.9 million in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and $214.2 million in the 2022 BIL addendum (contingent upon the project’s reauthorization at a higher cost in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act). The 2022 BIL addendum funds allow the Corps of Engineers to award some of the remaining $802 million work required to make the New Lock at the Soo fully functional.” – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 20, 2022
  • “U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District New Lock at the Soo Project in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is reauthorized in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2022 on Dec 23, 2022. The project reauthorization amount is $3.219 billion.” – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, December 27, 2022
  • “‘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.” – TV6, December 27, 2022
  • The project is “scheduled to be [completed] in 2030.” – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 20, 2022
  • “The Soo Locks, recognized as nationally critical infrastructure, continue to receive bipartisan support in Congress for funding the New Lock at the Soo project.” – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 20, 2022

Outcomes, improvements, and practical impact

Failing to build a new lock could be disastrous to trade if the current lock failed:

  • “According to a 2015 Department of Homeland Security Study, ‘an unanticipated closure of the Poe Lock, the only lock large enough at the Soo Locks to allow passage of the Lakers carrying iron ore, would be catastrophic for the Nation. 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: approximately 75% of the U.S. integrated steel production would cease within two to six weeks after a closure of the Poe Lock; approximately 80% of iron ore mining operations would shut down; and nearly 100% of North American appliances, automobile, construction equipment, and farm equipment, mining equipment and railcar production would shut down.’” – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 20, 2022

The new lock will have better safety features:

  • “There will be some new features on the New Lock at the Soo, such as hands free mooring units. ‘Hands free mooring units act like suction cups that hold the ship in place moving up as the chamber fills or down as it empties,’ Rachel Miller, New Lock Supervisory Civil Engineer said. ‘These units will be a safety upgrade to using line handlers, the current method of mooring ships in the lock chamber.’” – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 20, 2022

Climate impact

The new lock will allow for greater resilience to weather extremes:

Katalenich and Lake Carriers’ Association President Jim Weakley both emphasized the focus on resiliency with the project. ‘What we’re seeing – with the polar vortex for example – is we’re seeing more extremes,’ Weakley said. ‘The flooding that occurred in February this year of the St. Clair-Detroit River system is a perfect example of how a quick Arctic event can impact the Great Lakes, and we need the systems to be resilient.’” – Great Lakes Now, November 5, 2021

Economic impact

The contractor for Phase 3 will be using at least some union workers:

  • “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Detroit District, announced Saturday that it has awarded a $1.07 billion contract for Phase 3 of the Soo Locks project in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to Kokosing Alberici Traylor LLC (KAT), a joint venture comprised of Kokosing Industrial (Westerville, Ohio); Alberici Constructors (St. Louis); and Traylor Bros. (Evansville, Indiana).” – The Construction Broadsheet, July 4, 2022
  • “Kokosing Alberici Traylor, LLC is hiring skilled union construction workers and administrative staff for the Soo Locks Project in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.” The following unions are involved in the project: Carpenter Local 202, Carpenter Local 1510, Ironworkers Local 8, LiUna Local 1239, and Operators Local 324. – Upper Peninsula Michigan Works!, last accessed March 2023
  • Operators Local 324, discussing some of their contributions to the unique work site that is completely surrounded by water: “Concrete production is just one of the many tasks Kokosing-Alberici is carrying out with Operating Engineers 324 members for this project. Dernberger points out that there are also a 1500 hp tug boat and customized deck barge with roll-on-roll-off ramps for transporting materials and equipment across the federal navigation channel to the work site, 4100 Manitowoc cranes for pile driving and material handling, barge mounted excavators for underwater excavation and demolition activities. Additional numerous onsite material handling and earthmoving equipment such as; excavators, off-road dump trucks, forklifts, loaders, etc. to complete the sitework and service the batch plant and other construction activities.” – Operating Engineers 324 Michigan, July 7, 2022

Official supporting statements

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI): “I applaud the US Army Corps of Engineers for making a $479 million investment in the Soo Locks to finish the project, protecting tens of thousands of jobs and uplifting our economy. The locks are critical to facilitating trade and economic cooperation between our two peninsulas and Great Lakes neighbors. Our federal partners are also bolstering critical Michigan harbors, further shoring up our waterways and enabling businesses to trade goods and supplies more easily. I am grateful to our congressional delegation for fighting for this investment. Together, we will continue finding ways to grow Michigan’s economy, create and protect good-paying jobs, and invest in every region of our great state.” – State of Michigan Office of the Governor, January 19, 2022
  • Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH): “The critical role that Great Lakes waterways play in sustaining and advancing America’s economic vitality cannot be overstated. The revitalization of the Soo Locks will strengthen America’s commercial shipping capabilities and support good-paying jobs throughout the Industrial Heartland.” – AP News, January 22, 2022
  • Mark Parker, president of Interlake Steamship Company: “‘I think we all want to ensure we can make cars and build things that need steel and that lock is what does that,’ Barker said. ‘Trying to put a true value on that is sometimes difficult. You don’t know what you what you lose until you lose it.’” – Mlive, May 27, 2022

Selected clips

  • “Soo Locks rebuild project costs balloon past $1 billion estimates” – MLive, May 27, 2022
  • “Long-sought Great Lakes projects get funding under new law” – Holland Sentinel, January 22, 2022

Images

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

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