SAULT STE. MARIE (WJRT) (1/31/2020) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a contract for the first of three phases to expand the Soo Locks shipping channel in the Upper Peninsula.
The entire project to add a third, larger lock at the complex in Sault Ste. Marie is expected to cost around $1 billion to complete. It will provide a second lock capable of handling the largest Great Lakes freighters.
The $53 million first phase contract awarded to Trade West Construction of Nevada on Friday calls for deepening the approach channel by 30 feet. Work should start in the spring and last about two years.
Engineers are still finalizing plans for the second and third phases of construction.
The Corps of Engineers plans to award a contract for stabilizing walls along the approach channel in February, which would allow vessels to tie up while waiting their turn to pass through the locks.
A contract to build the third large lock will be awarded next year. The third lock may be completed in about seven years, according to project manager Mollie Mahoney.
The Soo Locks are located on the St. Mary's River between Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. and Ontario. They lift and drop vessels 21 feet between the different levels of Lake Superior and Lake Huron.
The complex currently has two main locks -- the MacArthur lock that is about 700 feet long and the Poe lock that is 1,200 feet long. Two other locks are not used very often.
The new third lock will be 1,200 feet long and 110 feet wide.
The locks carry 80 million tons of cargo every year that is crucial to the U.S. manufacturing industry. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has concluded a sudden closure of the single lock capable of carrying the largest freighters would be catastrophic to the economy.