Opinion: Fixing Soo Locks long overdue
The Soo Locks are among Michigan’s most vital infrastructure assets. All the iron ore mined in the U.S. passes through the locks. Iron ore is a fundamental building block for key manufacturing industries, including the North American auto industry and appliance manufacturing.
Despite how critical the locks are to our national economy, the Soo Locks have been awaiting an upgrade for decades. Only one of the four locks in Sault Ste. Marie is large enough to accommodate the large shipping freighters that transport the resources our country depends on, leaving the economy vulnerable to a major disruption in our manufacturing capacity.
If the locks were forced to close, 100 percent of North American auto production would halt within weeks. It is estimated that a six-month shutdown of the locks would result in 11 million jobs lost nationwide. We need to upgrade this 1,000-foot lock and add another to protect and grow domestic manufacturing.
We have been waiting decades for Washington to show support for this critical artery of our economy, and were thrilled in late April when President Trump expressed his support and commitment to upgrading the locks while visiting Michigan. Since then, we have kicked into high gear in Michigan, dedicating resources, working with the Trump administration, launching a public awareness campaign and building a multi-state coalition to help advocate the support needed to make this project a reality.
Construction of a new lock was approved by Congress in 1986 but funding never followed. The current estimate by the Army Corps of Engineers to build the new lock is more than $900 million and is authorized at full federal expense.
In Michigan, we recognize the importance of this project and want to help speed this project along, so we are doing our part to make the upgrade a reality. In order to leverage non-federal funds and help jump-start the project, we proactively committed $50 million to contribute to this vital effort. We are encouraging other states to make similar commitments and to help move this project along quickly.
Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers released a new study reinforcing the urgency to upgrade the locks, demonstrating the economic consequences that could occur if the project doesn’t happen. The revised economic study showed the financial feasibility of upgrading the Soo Locks by establishing a more accurate and improved benefit-cost ratio for the project. The study scored the benefit-cost ratio at 2.42, meaning for every dollar spent constructing the new lock it will return $2.42 in benefits. The previous study, completed in 2005, scored the project at 0.73. We can now say with confidence this new lock reflects real benefits to not just Michigan, or the Great Lakes region, but to the national economy.
The significance of this project cannot be overstated, and we can’t afford the consequences of letting this project languish for another decade. Our present and future economy depend on the upgrade of the Soo Locks.
We need Michiganians and people across the country to engage in this effort and help us get this project completed.
Brian Calley is lieutenant governor of Michigan.