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Lock Repairs on the Great Lakes Saint Lawrence Seaway System

Lock Repairs on the Great Lakes Saint Lawrence Seaway System

Great Lakes Saint Lawrence Seaway System (the Seaway) locks are usually closed during the winter for several months due to ice. Excluding the winter closure, the 2001 season consisted of 277 days. The lock system of the portion of the Seaway operated and maintained by the United States experienced 111 hours (about 4½ days) of downtime during the 2001 season. Lock equipment malfunctions caused only seven hours of delay during the 2001 season, 6 percent of all downtime. Weather-related poor visibility, high winds, and ice caused over half of all lock downtime. Vessel incidents caused another 45 percent of delays. Over the last decade, weather has been the cause of most delays (figure 58). Exceptions occurred in 1993 when water level/flow caused 124½ hours of delay and in 1998 and 1999 when vessel incidents caused over 40 hours of delay.

The Seaway is a waterway operated jointly by the United States and Canada. It encompasses the Saint Lawrence River, the five Great Lakes, and the waterways connecting the Great Lakes. It extends 2,300 miles—from the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence at the Atlantic Ocean in the east to Lake Superior in the west [1]. The U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (the Corporation) operates and maintains the U.S. portion of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, which includes two locks.

Operations and maintenance represent the bulk of the Corporation’s expenditures. Over 80 percent of Corporation expenditures went toward personal services and benefits—mainly for staffing the locks—during fiscal year 2000. Maintenance and engineering cost $3.3 million. In December 1999, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveyed the two lock structures operated and maintained by the United States. They concluded that the locks were generally well maintained but recommended maintenance and capital improvements [2]. The Corporation has developed five-year capital and maintenance plans for the years 2001 through 2005 that include $6 million in capital expenditures.


1. U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Maritime Administration, and U.S. Coast Guard, Maritime Trade & Transportation 2002 (Washington, DC: 2002).

2. U.S. Department of Transportation, Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., Fiscal 2000 Annual Report, Great Lakes Seaway System Moves Forward in the 21st Century (Washington, DC: 2001), also available at http://www.greatlakes-seaway.com/en/pdf/fy2000ar.pdf, as of February 2003.

Updated: Saturday, May 20, 2017