Investing in the Soo Locks is Critical to Preserving America's Economic and National Security

By Reps. Dan Newhouse (WA-04) and Jack Bergman (MI-01)

This piece was originally published in the Washington Examiner.

Investing in and modernizing the Soo Locks is a matter of great economic and national security for our country.

Located on the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the Soo Locks have been recognized as vitally important since World War II, since they connect Lake Superior to the other four Great Lakes and waters beyond. However, only two of the four locks at the Soo are operational, and 88% of the commercial traffic is limited by size to a single lock.

Due to decades of a lack of modernization and investment, the Soo Locks are in drastic need of revitalization and expansion. It’s up to Congress to continue to advance investment in this critical infrastructure, which serves as the linchpin of economic and national security for not only the Midwestern region but the rest of the country.

The Soo Locks allow commercial, recreational, and military vessels to traverse the 21-foot drop from Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes and are a critical node in the Great Lakes Navigation System. For producers of American appliances, automobiles, construction, and farm and mining equipment, the Soo Locks are vital for their livelihoods. Nearly 95% of the country’s iron ore pellets, essential for the steel industry, travel through the Locks.

Without this mode of transportation, the supply chain for American steel production and manufacturing would suffer greatly. The dedicated men and women there ensure that vessels passing through the Soo Locks can haul an estimated 75 million tons of cargo annually for industries that contribute more than $1 trillion to America’s economy. This, combined with the 123,000 jobs and $22.6 billion in economic activity generated, serves as evidence that preserving these Locks will, in turn, preserve our nation’s security and global competitiveness.

However, the construction of a third, larger lock is necessary to avoid any disruptions of shipping traffic through the Great Lakes. Construction of a new lock commenced in 2020 and is set to be completed by 2030, but many challenges have slowed progress. Spurred by inflation, a nationwide labor shortage, and inaccurate early cost estimates, the price tag for the project has tripled since construction began.

To make matters worse, the Biden administration did not include sufficient funding in its fiscal 2024 budget request to Congress, which could result in another cost increase and delay the completion timeline by a year or more. The administration must recognize the importance of the Soo Locks and support congressional efforts to ensure the new lock at the Soo is completed on a reasonable timeline and in an efficient manner.

The strategic importance of the Soo Locks to the North American economy cannot be overstated. As members of the Congressional Western Caucus, we are dedicated to supporting water infrastructure and America’s rural communities, and we will continue to push the modernization and expansion of the Soo Locks system.

Our economy is dependent on the locks, and if expansion is not completed in a timely manner, the consequences will be felt for years to come.

Dan Newhouse is a U.S. representative for Washington and serves as chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.

Jack Bergman is a U.S. representative for Michigan and a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general.

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