Soo Locks Upgrades: Process and Timeline

March 9, 2016

A recent Detroit Free Press article predicts “dire consequences” should Michigan’s Soo Locks be forced to shut down by a failure in infrastructure. The premonition stems from a recent U.S. Department of Homeland Security report which found that a gate failure at the Soo’s Poe Lock could result in up to a 6 month shutdown, creating a domino effect that would halt operations for a number of industries. The Poe Lock is currently the only lock capable of handling the 1,000-foot freighters used to transport raw materials like iron ore.

Planned closures also cause delays. While smaller than the Poe, last year’s 20-day closure of the MacArthur Lock stalled more than 100 vessels. That said, regional interests agree that the locks’ aging infrastructure needs attention. Governor Snyder even mentioned the Soo Locks in his 2016 State of the State address.

In addition to maintaining the existing locks, many believe the Federal Government should increase the number of locks capable of handling 1,000-foot freighters. In 1986, Congress approved construction of an additional lock—similar in size to the Poe—but has consistently declined to fund the project in its entirety. In 2001, the State of Michigan established the Soo Locks Fund as a separate restricted account within the comprehensive transportation fund for the purpose of fulfilling the state's portion of nonfederal cost share for the new lock. Initial construction began in 2009 when Congress allocated $17 million in federal dollars for the first phase. Since then, regional legislators have continued to stress the importance of fully funding the $580 million project.  

Last November, the Obama administration approved a $1.35 million study to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the project. While advocates expect a positive report, the study is expected to take several years to complete and additional progress is unlikely prior to the study’s completion.

In the interim, parties interested in providing goods or services to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for projects involving the Soo Locks should periodically review the Federal Business Opportunities website for Invitations for Bids (IFBs), Requests for Proposals (RFPs), and Requests for Quotes (RFQs). Projects related to the Soo Locks are categorized as Detroit District opportunities and use the contract code W911XK.

For more information, please contact Andrew J. Switalski, author of this alert, at 517-374-9140 or You can also visit Dykema’s Infrastructure Law & Policy Blog for more updates as we continue to monitor various infrastructure issues.

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