UNDATED (WOOD) — The federal government is devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to finally allow for a new lock to be built at the Soo Locks, a key shipping channel.

There has long been talk of building a second large lock to speed up cargo ships’ passage at Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula, but the project never got off the ground because the cash wasn’t there.

Michigan’s U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, announced Wednesday that last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $479 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, earmarked for a new lock.

The money was the last piece of the puzzle to fully fund the project. In all, it’s going to cost $1.3 billion.

“After a hard-fought effort, we finally have full funding of the Corp’s budget to finish building the new lock at the Soo Locks,” Stabenow said in a statement. “In Michigan, we know how vital the Locks are to our economy and our national defense. We also know that we are on borrowed time until something happens that shuts them down.”

“With some of the pumps operating the locks being more than 100 years old, it was long overdue that we modernize such a critical piece of our infrastructure and ensure sustainability for the future,” Peters stated. “Building a new lock will make our supply chains more resilient and bolster commerce on the Great Lakes – and I was proud to help pass the legislation making this necessary upgrade closer to a reality.”

Most of The United States’ iron ore passes through the Soo Locks, headed from Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula to steel mills elsewhere in Michigan and in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania. The locks allow cargo vessels to traverse the 21-foot elevation drop along the St. Marys River between Lakes Superior and Huron.

There are four locks, but only one big one, called the Poe. Two of the smaller locks, the Davis and Sabin, which aren’t active anyway, will be converted into the new large one. It will be 1,200 feet long and 110 feet wide.

Soo Locks satellite map 050516_212056
The Soo Locks.

“The New Lock at the Soo will provide much needed resiliency in the Great Lakes Navigation System,” Army Corps Detroit District Deputy District Engineer Kevin McDaniels said in a statement. “It will eliminate the single point of failure in our nation’s iron ore supply chain.”

There is no precise timeline yet for when the new lock will be built, but the Army Corps already has work planned to deepen and widen the approach to the locks.