Top Ten Public Works Projects of the Century

Editor's Note: APWA developed the Top Ten Public Works Projects of the Century Program to honor the ten most outstanding public works projects of the 20th Century that significantly affected and improved the quality of life in the United States or Canada. Our goal was to generate awareness of the positive contributions public works has made as well as to build appreciation for public works and its contributions to North America.

The APWA Reporter will highlight each of the outstanding projects through the October 2001 issue. This issue features the St. Lawrence Seaway/Power Project.

St. Lawrence Seaway/Power Project

Managing Agencies: St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation; New York Power Authority; St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation

Nominated by: New York and Ontario Chapters of APWA

The construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway was the last link of an evolutionary process of canal building begun in 1779. Over the years, an ever-increasing demand for more efficient, safe, and reliable waterborne transport developed. By 1932, the United States had completed the Davis and Sabin locks at Sault Ste Marie and Canada had completed the present day Welland Canal all to Seaway dimensions. All that remained was to replace the existing 14-foot navigation from Lake Ontario to Montreal with the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The St. Lawrence River is the natural outlet of the Great Lakes and forms with them a waterway system extending 3,600 kilometers (2,240 miles) from the head of Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean. The river finds its headwaters at the eastern end of Lake Ontario and flows northeastwardly through a series of rapids with intervening reaches of lake-like slack water to Montreal-a distance of some 293 kilometers (183 miles).

The tremendous economic growth that the Seaway/Power Project stimulated has yielded the most dramatic effects on the quality of life of both United States and Canadian citizens. Prior to the Seaway's construction, the St. Lawrence Valley was described by the New York State Department of Commerce as the most underdeveloped area in the state. After the Seaway opened in 1959 and the Power Project became operational, all of New York's "North Country" river counties set new records in income, employment, savings, and consumer spending.

A 1995 economic impact study of the entire Great Lakes/Seaway region indicated that the Seaway generates annually over $2 billion in personal income and $255 million in tax revenue, while sustaining over 50,000 jobs in the United States alone. Employment opportunities and the general social well-being of many Canadian citizens were also improved. The St. Lawrence Power Project helped attract large industries to the region, employing thousands and significantly reducing the cost of electricity to the region.

The economies of scale offered by the Seaway to move vast amounts of bulk and general cargo on both Great Lake freighters and ocean vessels fostered industrial and agricultural expansion in the large area bounding the Great Lakes and the wheat-belt areas of both the United States and Canada. Shipments on the St. Lawrence Seaway have increased fivefold from 10 million tons in 1958 to the 1994-1998 five-year average of 49.4 million tons.

The project also produced significant non-economic benefits. New parks, beaches, and boating facilities were developed, greatly increasing recreational opportunities. Water level management in the St. Lawrence River became routine. Moreover, the close cooperation between the United States and Canada during the construction established a strong foundation for the close cross-border cooperation that exists today in the operation of the Seaway/Power Project.

The construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the accompanying St. Lawrence Power Project, had far-reaching positive effects not only in the surrounding St. Lawrence Valley, but throughout the entire Great Lakes, in both Canada and the United States. The completion of this massive public works project produced significant and enduring economic, social, recreational, and environmental benefits that have dramatically improved the quality of life for millions of U.S. and Canadian citizens for more than 40 years.