The first phase of construction for the new Soo Lock is expected to get underway this spring, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District.
The Soo Locks, located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, connect Lake Superior with the other Great Lakes and allow cargo ships to travel between them.
However, only one lock, the Poe, is able to handle 1,000-foot lakers. The Poe Lock is more than 50 years old and was closed twice in August 2019 for emergency repairs.
Furthermore, the Poe Lock handles about 90% of the 80 million tons of cargo that pass through the locks annually, highlighting the need for another 1,200-foot lock if the Poe Lock were to close for a prolonged period of time during the shipping season.
The project will add a second 110-foot by 1,200-foot lock capable of handling 1,000-foot ships.
The first phase of construction will deepen the upstream approach channel to a depth of 30 feet and will take about two years to complete, according to a news release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Trade West Construction of Mesquite, Nevada was awarded the contract for the first phase at a cost of almost $53 million.
Phases two and three of the nearly $1 billion project are still in the design phase, the news release said.
During phase two, the existing approach walls will be stabilized, which will allow ships to tie up and wait their turn to pass through the new lock. Bidding on that portion of the project will begin in February.
The third phase of the project includes construction of the new lock chamber and updating downstream approach walls. It will be advertised for bid in 2021.
Contingent on funding, the lock project could be complete in seven years, said Mollie Mahoney, project manager, in the news release.
The smaller MacArthur Lock closed for the season on Dec. 15 for critical repairs, and the Poe Lock closed for the season on Jan. 15. Both are set to open by March 25.