Our Editorial: Hold Trump to Soo Locks promise

The Detroit News

President Donald Trump’s penchant for impulsive behavior often makes us cringe. But a seemingly off-the-cuff moment during his Macomb County rally Saturday night could turn out fabulously for Michigan.

In what appeared to be an impromptu comment, Trump pledged to phone the head of the Army Corps of Engineers that very night, or maybe the next day, and get him moving on the long-awaited and much-needed expansion of the Soo Locks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“The Soo Locks are going to hell,” Trump told supporters. “You know that, right? And we’re going to get them fixed up.”

No word yet whether the president actually made the call, but hopefully word of his promise got back to Washington one way or the other.

In terms of impactful infrastructure projects, few would offer the return on investment equal to that of expanding the Soo Locks.

The locks, on the St. Mary’s River between Lakes Superior and Huron in Sault Ste. Marie, are a major connector for the transport of grain, coal and ore to international ports.

U.S.-flagged carriers move more than 80 million tons of cargo through the locks annually.

Currently, only one of the locks, the 49-year-old Poe, is capable of accommodating the 1,000-foot ocean-going ships.

When it’s down for repairs, shipping backs up and revenue is lost for both the cargo haulers and the cargo suppliers. If the delays become chronic, shippers will choose other means of moving the goods.

So far, most shut-downs have been short-term. But should the Poe be out of commission for six months for a major repair, estimates are it would cost 11 million jobs in the United States and tank the economy.

Upgrading two smaller locks to match the 1,200-foot Poe Lock was approved by Congress in 1986, but funds have never been appropriated. New proposals call for building a new lock the same size as the Poe.

The expansion would cost up to $626 million, but estimates are a second, full-sized lock could generate $1.7 billion a year in new economic benefit.

Trump says he committed to the expansion while sharing a ride with GOP members of the Michigan congressional delegation from Selfridge Air National Guard Base to Washington Township, where the rally was held. In the limousine with him were Reps. John Moolenaar of Midland, Paul Mitchell of Dryden and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, whose northern district includes the locks.

Gov. Rick Snyder set the Soo Locks expansion as a priority during his final State of the State address earlier this year.

He and the GOP congressmen who secured the presidential pledge should form a lobbying squad to remind the president of his commitment.

It may have been an impulsive moment, but it was captured on tape during a campaign rally, and Donald Trump is a president who prides himself on keeping his campaign promises.

Keeping this one would be a fine reward for a state that was critical to his election in 2016.