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Second phase of new Sault lock construction set to begin

More contractors arrive in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. to start work on rehabilitating approach walls
Soo Locks construction barges (US Army Corps of Engineers photo)
Contractors transit the Soo Locks to move their equipment into place to begin to resume work this spring on a new lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.(US Army Corps of Engineers photo)

A second phase of construction begins shortly for a new navigation lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. as work resumed this week on the US$922.4-million project after a scheduled winter shutdown.

Trade West Construction picked up where it left off last fall and continued dredging the upstream channel – on the Lake Superior side –  to deepen the approaches for a proposed new lock, just west of the decommissioned Sabin and Davis Locks. Both of these obsolete locks will be demolished to make way for a new lock capable of  handling the largest ships on the Great Lakes.

The new lock is scheduled to open in 2030.

The Soo Locks are located on the American side of the St. Marys River, allowing for commercial vessels to transit the 6.4-metre (21 feet) elevation change between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

Construction of the massive and critical marine transportation infrastructure project began last summer. Trade West Construction was awarded the contract for the first phase, which is expected to be wrapped up by November.

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A second phase of construction will start as Kokosing-Alberici, a joint venture partnership, arrived on site last week. Their job is to rehabilitate and stabilize the existing upstream approach walls, allowing vessels to tie up and wait their turn to pass through the new lock. Phase two should be complete by fall 2023, with winter seasonal breaks.

So far, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the operator of the locks, said everything is on schedule. The project is expected to take 10 years to complete. It will be the first new lock added to the canal since the late 1960s when the Poe Lock opened.

“We recently had a partnering meeting with phase two contractors who are starting this year and are confident this project continues the successful construction of the new lock," said Lt. Col. Scott Katalenich, the USACE commander of the Detroit District, in a statement.

The third phase, construction of the new lock chamber, will include rehabilitating downstream approach walls on the Lake Huron side. The designs are 95 per cent complete. Bid solicitation begins this summer with phase three construction starting in spring of 2022.

The new lock will measure 1,200 feet (365 metres) by 110 feet (33.5 metres), the same size as the Poe Lock, which handles more than 85 per cent of all ship traffic. Building a new lock was considered a matter of national security in a 2015 Department of Homeland Security because of its place in the U.S. manufacturing supply chain.