Thursday, October 4, 2012

Panama Canal Expansion About Halfway Finished

Expansion of the Panama Canal, which began five years ago, is now about halfway finished, according to the government agency overseeing the project.

The Panama Canal Authority revealed Sept. 25 that the project, which is expected to double the canal’s capacity by 2014, was almost 45 percent complete as of Aug. 31, 2012. The project, which was officially kicked off in September 2007, creates a new lane of traffic along the canal by constructing a new set of locks.

The expansion “is moving forward at a good pace,” according to Panama Canal Administrator/CEO Jorge Quijano.

Among the project’s components are the excavations of new access channels, the widening of existing channels and the deepening of navigation channels. The expansion is expected to allow post-Panamax ships to travel through the canal en route to East Coast terminals, something that could negatively affect West Coast vessel traffic.

A key component of the expansion is construction of two new ship lock system complexes -- one each on the Atlantic and Pacific sides. The current lock system lifts ships of up to 85 feet to the main elevation of the Panama Canal and down again. According to the Authority, design and construction of the expanded locks, which could accommodate larger ships, has reached 31 percent.

The locks gates are being fabricated in Italy and the first four gates should be shipped to Panama during the first quarter of 2013, according to the Canal Authority. The contractor’s expected to complete the main lock structure and begin pre-commissioning tests in the dry during the first quarter of 2014, with flooding of the locks and final commissioning then planned to start in September 2014.