The first phase of construction on the new lock at the Soo Locks began last week. The Detroit office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the contractor, Trade West Construction, Inc., began to move equipment to the site on May 4 and was set to begin deepening the upstream approach to the locks in the north canal within the next month.

Phase one of the project, upstream channel deepening, will facilitate the construction of a new lock, roughly the same size as the current Poe Lock (110 feet by 1,200 feet) on the site of the existing decommissioned Davis and Sabin locks, an Army Corps news release said.

Work on the nearly $1 billion lock is expected to be complete in November 2021.

"It's incredible that we're starting this construction a year earlier than even the most optimistic projections when the project was reauthorized in 2018," said Lt. Col. Gregory Turner, commander for the Detroit District. "Getting the first phase started sets the conditions for the project's ultimate completion."

The three major phases of the project remain on track with their timetables virtually unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic at this time.

Phase two involves rehabilitation of the upstream approach walls, which will stabilize the existing approach walls to allow for modern vessels to tie up and wait their turn to pass through the new lock, the Army Corps said. The third phase, construction of the new lock chamber, will include rehabilitating downstream approach walls and is nearing its 70% design milestone.

The Soo Locks are situated off the east end of Lake Superior — at the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan —

and allow vessels to transit the 21-foot elevation change at the St. Marys Falls Canal.

Over 85% of commodity tonnage through the Soo Locks is restricted by vessel size to the Poe Lock.

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According to a 2015 Department of Homeland Security study on the impact of an unexpected Soo Locks closure, the Soo Locks are nationally critical infrastructure and the reliability of this critical node in the Great Lakes Navigation System is essential to U.S. manufacturing and National Security.