Working the plan
Army Corps itemizes steps in constructing the new Poe-sized lock

Lake Superior into the Locks heading South

With or without appropriations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must be ready to act. In the case of building a new Soo Lock, it’s had decades to prepare.

With 2018 being a year of breakthroughs for funding the Great Lakes Navigation System, including $52 million committed by the State of Michigan and $32 million in federal funds by the Corps, building the new Poe-sized lock continues.

Construction began with a ground-breaking 10 years ago and $32 million investment in: design and planning efforts, downstream channel deepening and construction of the Sabin Lock cofferdam. With funding commitments resuming, completion of the new lock is expected to take place over the next decade and cost nearly $1 billion.

The lock will provide the long-awaited second option for the Great Lakes/Seaway system’s largest ships, the 1,000-footers operated by the U.S. domestic fleet.

With $191 million appropriated for Great Lakes Navigation System operations and maintenance for fiscal year 2019, there’s money to move forward.

“This funding is a big plus for asset renewal,” said Marie Strum, Great Lakes Navigation Team Lead, noting that increas-es in funding have been trending since 2014 when the Great Lakes waterways were recognized as a single region and standards for funding were set in the Water Resources Reform Development Act.

Of the $191 million appropriated, key projects for the year include $46 million being invested in dredging 25 projects, $15 million in dredged material management, $51 million in navigation structure repair, $17 million in Soo Locks maintenance, $5 million in Black Rock Lock maintenance and nearly $5 million in Chicago Lock maintenance.

Lock construction will involve three main contracts: 1) upstream channel deepening, 2) upstream approach wall construction and 3) lock construction. They will run consecutively with minimal overlap.

In a project recommendation by Corps’ Area Engineer Kevin Sprague, “construction of the new lock is necessary to ensure reliability at this critical node in the Great Lakes Navigation System, which is essential to U.S. manufacturing and national security. The benefits of this project reflect a reduction in risk associated with the existing single point of failure for the nation’s value chain of taconite pellets, steel production and manufacturing.”

The grand plan. Construction of the lock is occurring in the Soo Locks North Channel, which is currently home to the Davis and Sabin locks, which are 105 and 100 years old, respectively. The Davis is closed and the Sabin has been de-commissioned to accommodate the construction of cofferdams needed to build the new lock.

In the current design, the Davis Lock will be used for construction access to the project site.

The MacArthur and Poe locks will remain operational as nearby work builds the new Poe-sized lock in an expanded footprint of the Sabin Lock. The existing north wall lock will remain, with the chamber face being renewed and new anchors installed to improve the lock’s reliability and stability.

Approach walls will be constructed upstream and downstream of the lock chamber and steel sheet pile cells will be constructed around existing bridges to protect the established infrastructure.

The bedrock approach channels will be deepened to 29 feet. The south Sabin Lock wall will be demolished, rock excavation performed to widen the existing chamber and new concrete monoliths will be constructed on the south wall.

The new lock will be filled and emptied through an In-Chamber Longitudinal Culvert System. The upper and lower miter gates will have a height of 38.2 and 59.9 feet, respectively, above the sill.

Once the new lock is open, the Poe will undergo major maintenance—ensuring that the system doesn’t return to the current state of having a single point of failure at the Soo Locks. When the two 1,200-foot locks are operational, the Mac- Arthur Lock will be put into caretaker sta-tus to serve as a backup.

Funding flow. All of the planning—as has been shown by the decade-long discontinuance in progress—is dependent on continued Congressional appropriations.

“Efficient funding is the key,” Strum said. “There needs to be enough funding to move forward, to warrant issuing contracts.”

The Corps’ schedule for lock construction follows:

2019 – $69.2 million
($32.3 million federal, $36.9 million State of Michigan)

  • Upstream Channel Deepening – complete design ($845,000 federal) and award construction contract ($31.5 million federal, $27.4 million State of Michigan)
  • Upstream Approach Walls – complete design ($1.5 million State of Michigan)
  • New Lock – continue design ($8 million)

2020 – $84.1 million

  • Upstream Channel Deepening –manage construction ($2.1 million)
  • Upstream Approach Walls – award and manage construction contract ($74 million)
  • New Lock – continue design ($8 million)

2021 – $134.8 million

  • Upstream Channel Deepening –manage construction ($2.1 million)
  • Upstream Approach Walls – manage construction ($2.3 million)
  • New Lock – complete design ($5.4 million) and prepare to advertise the contract ($125 million)

2022 – $138.3 million

  • Upstream Approach Walls – manage construction ($2.3 million)
  • New Lock – year two of construction contract ($136 million)

2023-28 – $571.4 million

  • New Lock – manage and complete construction

Through the breakdown in funding and plans for construction, $15 million from the State of Michigan’s funding is set aside for future needs, ready for unexpect-ed costs or cost increases.