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Digging of the new Sault super lock begins this summer

Inflation, labour shortages drives up costs of construction to more than US$1 billion
Super lock 3
Artist rendering of what a new lock would look like at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (U.S. Army Corps of Engineer conceptual)

Construction of the lock chamber for a new super lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. begins this summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently announced.

Until now, dredging work had been done on the western and eastern approaches of the new lock, now valued at US$1.068 billion.

Now activity is moving into the third and largest phase, which involves building the new lock chamber and rehabilitation of the downstream approach (Lake Huron side) walls.

Kokosing Alberici Traylor, LLC, a joint venture construction firm from Westerville, Ohio was awarded the contract on July 1. The contractor can begin work immediately.

The firm is already on site and had been working on stabilizing the approach walls on the upstream side (Lake Superior side) of the project.

This phase is expected to take seven years to complete. 

"The Corps of Engineers looks forward to beginning construction on the new lock chamber later this summer," said Mollie Mahoney, the lock project manager, in a statement. "and we continue to work hard to maintain the pace and continue to make progress toward New Lock at the Soo total project completion in (the) summer of 2020."

The Corps of Engineers, the operators of the locks, noted that the cost of the lock construction has increased, attributing it to market conditions with inflation, a shortage of labour, design modifications and "early estimate assumptions."

Kevin McDaniels, deputy district engineer, acknowledged the higher price tag is a challenge that could impact the construction schedule but the Corps of Engineers is working with industry and federal agencies to mitigate the cost impact of the project. The total pricetag in 2020 dollars was US$922.4 million.

To make way for the new lock, two decommissioned locks from the First World War-era will be demolished. The new lock will be able to accommodate the largest ships on the Great Lakes and will be a twin to the nearby Poe Lock at the site.