Canadian Consulting Engineer

Panama Canal to be widened

November 3, 2006
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

After almost a century of service, one of the engineering wonders of the world is to be expanded to almost double i...

After almost a century of service, one of the engineering wonders of the world is to be expanded to almost double its capacity. Panamanians voted in favour of expanding the Panama Canal on October 22 in a national referendum. The Yes vote was 78%.
The Panama Canal Authority is proposing to expand the 80-kilometre waterway by constructing a new lane of locks alongside the existing canal to allow more traffic and wider ships. It says the canal is nearing maximum capacity and needs to undertake the $5.25 billion expansion in order to keep up with demand. Currently around 14,000 vessels use the canal every year, much of the traffic taking goods from China into the United States. In total the traffic accounts for 5 per cent of world trade.
The new locks are to be built in an environmentally sound way to reuse 60% of the water in each transit procedure. The authority says this technology will eliminate the need for constructing dams, flooding or displacing communities.
The Panama Canal Authority says they will provide regular updates on the expansion and contracting process, and will continue its conservation efforts.
The United States built the canal at the beginning of the 20th century, although the idea for carving out the waterway to links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans across the narrow handle between North and South America had been around since the 16th century. Construction required 13 times more material than was excavated for the Suez Canal. John F. Wallace was the first chief engineer for the Panama Canal. He was replaced in 1905 by John F. Stevens.
The existing canal rises to 26 metres above sea level at Gatun Lake. The lock chambers are 33.5 meters wide by 304.8 metres long. The maximum dimensions of ships that can transit the canal now are 32.3 metres in beam, 294 metres long and have a draft depth of 12 metres. The United States handed the canal over to Panama in 1999. Around 9,000 people are employed on the canal at present.


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