The Great Lakes are half a world away from the Black Sea, but concerns about the flows of critical commodities also loom large around Michigan and Ontario.

Construction could begin later this summer at the Soo Locks, which handles roughly 80 million tons of bulk cargo moving from Lake Superior into US and Canadian ports throughout the Great Lakes. In a project that could be completed by 2030, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has now awarded a contract worth nearly $1.1bn for a new lock chamber.

The Soo Locks, at the St. Mary’s River (running between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the city of Sault Ste. Marie in Canada) date back to the mid 1800s. The last large lock construction took place in the late 1960’s, when the Poe Lock capable of taking vessels of 1,200 foot length and 110 foot beam, opened for business.

The new lock, to be the same size as the Poe Lock, was actually authorised in 1986. But the wheels of government move exceedingly slowly with the real authorisation and a path towards allocations of actual money not coming until 2018. A group of economic studies and “stakeholder interviewers” led planners to find vulnerabilities in relying on the existing Poe Lock, and the railway network, including the Soo Line part of Canadian Pacific Railway set to merge with Kansas City Southern, for transport of critical commodities – notably iron ore.

In the new contract, the USACE’s Detroit Engineer District has awarded $1,068,052,150 to Kokosing Alberici Traylor LLC, a joint venture of three large contractors based in the Midwestern US, to construct the lock chamber of the New Soo Lock. The work, which will take place over eight years, follows two earlier phases- rehabilitation of approach walls, which began in spring of 2020 and will be continuing into 2024.


Earlier this year, the Detroit District of the USACE said that it would be receiving $561m in fiscal year 2022 from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, signed into law by President Joe Biden in November, 2021) and the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (DRSAA) funds. According to the USACE, nearly $479m is slated for the’ mega project at the Soo Locks. Additional allocations will come in future fiscal years.

Supply chain integrity, along with the Biden administration’s emphasis on infrastructure spending, underlies this funding. USACE Deputy Engineer Kevin McDaniels said, “The New Lock at the Soo will provide much needed resiliency in the Great Lakes Navigation System…It will eliminate the single point of failure in our nation’s iron ore supply chain.” A three-week lock outage of the smaller McArthur Lock (opened in 1943 and running parallel to the Poe Lock) during the Summer, 2015 shipping season had brought attention to the importance of the Soo Locks.

Source: Seatrade Maritime News