The Soo Locks, which once served the fur trade, now move 90% of iron ore for automakers and manufacturers
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich.—About 10,000 ships pass through the Soo Locks each year to bring iron ore, grain, limestone and other staples across the Great Lakes and Canada into the Midwest and beyond. The navigational system, which allows large ships to bypass rapids below Lake Superior, was originally opened in the 1850s to handle a boom in copper mining. Every few decades, the locks were upgraded—until recently.
The largest lock, built in the 1960s and called the Poe Lock, is a vital link in the U.S. industrial supply chain but has been shut down for repairs 20 times in the last 10 years. Nine of the outages occurred in the last four years.
Now, construction crews are working to complete a modernization of the locks, a task given greater urgency by revelations about the economic impact of disrupted supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic. The question is whether the upgrades can get the funds they need in time despite a huge influx of cash from Washington.
The Biden administration is pouring nearly $700 million from the $1 trillion infrastructure law into building a new lock, almost doubling the money dedicated to the project at $1.6 billion. But that is still roughly half of the money that will be needed to finish the project, which is expected to be completed by 2030, meaning that a fractured Congress will need to allocate more spending when the benefits of government spending and the nation’s rising deficit are politically contentious.
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