|Expansion of the Panama Canal|
When ownership of the Panama Canal was transferred from the United States to Panama in 1999, Panamanians inherited a lot of national pride, but assumed the responsibility of maintaining a canal that was expected to reach its capacity between 2009 and 2012. Expanding the canal to serve for another hundred years would have entailed a massive civil engineering project carrying initial estimates of more than $20 billion in costs (exceeding the country's Gross Domestic Product).
On April 21, 2011, Met Section members found out how engineers from twenty companies and seventeen different countries turned grandiose plans into a realistic project that will double the canal's capacity by 2014 at a presentation by Ilya Espino de Marotta, Manager of the Resource Management and Projects Control Division of Panama Canal Authority and Laurene B. Mahon, an independent advisor to major infrastructure projects and project owners around the world.
The presentation provided an overview of the project's components, including the:
Plans to expand the Panama Canal were not a new idea. In 1939, the United States embarked on a project to construct a third set of locks on the canal that would allow the passage of larger ships. However, excavations were stopped in 1942 following the outbreak of World War II. Portions of these abandoned excavations are being used for the new locks, which will require a total of 4.9 cubic meters of concrete to construct. Although the new locks will be 65 percent larger than the current locks, they will use seven percent less water—a significant savings considering that each ship requires approximately 52 million gallons of fresh water to traverse the canal.
Along the East Coast and Gulf Coast of the United States, ports are beginning to make preparations to handle the bigger "New Panamax" vessels that will be accommodated by the larger locks. As the Panama Canal became more reliable, cargo that had been previously shipped from Asia to ports on the West Coast and transported by rail to the East Coast began using the "All-Water Route" and shipped directly to East Coast ports via the Panama Canal.
The advantages and disadvantages of the ports of Baltimore, Charleston, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, New York, Norfolk and Savannah were then discussed, along with types of improvements that would be required to increase draft, improve highway and rail connections and increase the efficiency of terminal facilities. In order to accommodate "New Panamax" vessels, the Port of New York will require dredging and increasing the height of the Bayonne Bridge.
The Panama Canal was selected by ASCE in 1994 as one of the seven modern wonders of the world.
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