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U.S. Steel plans to start up a hot strip mill at its idled Granite Works plant in Illinois and upgrade its hot strip mill at Gary Works.

"The company plans to take periodic outages at Gary Works, Great Lakes Works, and Mon Valley Works to improve the capabilities and reliability of the hot strip mills," U.S. Steel said in a press release.

The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker had announced during its third quarter conference call in November it intended to spend $30 million on planned maintenance projects in the fourth quarter, or about $10 million more in the third quarter.

Upcoming projects should "improve the reliability and operating efficiency of key assets" and "invest in our facilities to ensure we are well positioned to provide the increasingly complex products that our customers will require in the future," spokeswoman Erin DiPietro said Tuesday.

She declined to comment on specific work, the amount of investment, specific timing, a general time frame, outage duration or the number of outages planned. She said no one would be laid off while the hot strip mill was offline.

U.S. Steel executives said during the third quarter conference call the company is "accelerating the pace" of capital investments and preventive maintenance, largely because of operating challenges it had in the third quarter.

Hot strip mill upgrades in Gary likely would be a major investment, analyst Charles Bradford with New York City-based Bradford Research Inc. said.

"This is expensive stuff to do," Bradford said. "They wouldn't do it if the business wasn't getting better."

Upgrades to the hot strip mills are direly needed because they were all built around 1965.

"The industry needs to spend money to upgrade facilities," he said. "One of the problems is that it's all really old. Modernizing is much more cost-effective than building new."

U.S. Steel is likely restarting the hot strip mill at Granite Works near St. Louis because of a trade case it's pursuing against slabs imported from South Korea, Bradford said. If tariffs get imposed, a plant in California likely will look to source steel slabs from somewhere in the United States, and Granite Works could step up to fill that demand.

Two blast furnaces and other steelmaking operations at Granite Works remain idled.

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Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.