U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employ Virtual Reality ~ The New Lock Project Construction Continues

Maj. General William Graham, Deputy Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), views the New Lock at the Soo through a virtual reality headset while Gary Grunwald, USACE Structural Engineer, gives him directions at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan on February 3, 2021.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is using a new tool to help visualize the New Lock at the Soo. Lock operators and design members are using virtual reality to see what the new lock will look like from a new perspective.

The Soo Locks are located in Sault St. Marie, MI. in Chippewa County, situated on the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The Soo Locks are a vital gateway for vessels, including Great Lake Freighters, to transit the 21’ elevation change at the St. Marys Falls. The Poe Lock, opened in 1969, was the last lock built in the Soo Locks system, the only passage between Lake Superior and the lower lakes.

Nearly all domestically produced advanced high strength steel used to manufacture products like automobiles and appliances, is made with taconite (iron ore), a commodity that transits the Poe Lock.

Virtual Reality of the New Lock at the Soo is playing an important role in design, construction and future operation of the New Lock at the Soo in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, allowing crews to virtually walk through the New Lock Project to help identify any issues before designs are finalized.  This new way of virtually walking through the project helps identify any issues before designs are finalized.

According to the Army Corps, the New Lock at the Soo team has been creating a 3D model of the New Lock Project in Revit before it is imported into the virtual reality software.

‘The New Lock Project currently underway, is constructing a second Poe-sized lock (110′ by 1,200′) on the site of the existing Davis and Sabin Locks. The Soo Locks are critical transportation infrastructure and the reliability of this critical node in the Great Lakes Navigation System (GLNS) is essential to U.S. manufacturing and National Security.’ The New Lock is expected to provide annual benefits of $77.4 million and a benefit-cost ratio of 2.32 at a 7.0 percent discount rate.

The Soo Locks facility, operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, is the District’s largest project and is located on the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. on the international border with Canada. Approximately 80 million tons of commercial commodities pass through the Soo Locks annually.

85 percent of commercial commodities are carried by ships transiting the Soo Locks. Ships are limited by size of the Poe Lock. The US Army Corps of Engineers states that due to aging and deteriorating infrastructure, unscheduled outages are increasing. The economic impact of a 30-day unscheduled closure of the Soo Locks is estimated to be $160,000,000.

That is a lot of zeros.

Construction of a new lock with dimensions equal to the Poe Lock (1,200 feet long x 110 feet wide) will provide much needed resiliency in the Great Lakes Navigation System. The New Lock would eliminate the single point of failure in the United State’s iron ore supply chain.

Prior to 2018 $32.0M had been invested in the Design and planning efforts of the Project with Downstream Channel Deepening construction being completed.

In 2019 $69.2M was invested for the completion of the Sabin Lock Cofferdam construction. Project work continued with the completion of the Upstream Channel Deepening design.

In 2020 $125.3M, the project moved forward with the completion of the Upstream Approach Walls design, as well as a New Lock Chamber design.

Throughout 2021, with a further investment of $173.2M, work on the Upstream Channel Deepening continues.  Funding has already been allocated through to 2022 ($156.9M)

Going forward through 2023-2030, a further $474.0M is budgeted.

Within hours of the 2020 navigation season closing after the passage of the final vessel, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie got busy de-watering the Poe Lock for winter maintenance. The video below details the lock de-watering process step by step.