The Panama Canal expansion project, also called the Third Set of Locks Project, doubled the capacity of the Panama Canal by (a) adding a new lane of traffic allowing for a larger number of ships, and (b) increasing the width and depth of the lanes and locks allowing larger ships to pass. The new larger size of ships, called New Panamax, are about one and a half times the previous Panamax size and can carry over twice as much cargo.
The project has:
Built two new sets of locks, one each on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, and excavated new channels to the new locks.
Widened and deepened existing channels.
Raised the maximum operating water level of Gatun Lake.
Then-Panamanian President Martín Torrijos formally proposed the project on 24 April 2006, saying it would transform Panama into a First World country. A national referendum approved the proposal by a 76.8 percent majority on 22 October, and the Cabinet and National Assembly followed suit.
The project formally began in 2007. It was initially announced that the Canal expansion would be completed by August 2014 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal but various setbacks, including strikes and disputes with the construction consortium over cost overruns, pushed the completion date several times.
Following additional difficulties including seepage from the new locks, the expansion was opened on 26 June 2016. The expansion doubled the Canal’s capacity, and has a direct impact on economies of scale and international maritime trade.
The project is expected to create demand for ports to handle New Panamax ships. Several U.S. Eastern Seaboard ports will be ready for these larger ships, and others are considering renovations, including dredging, blasting, and bridge raising. In the UK, the Port of Southampton can handle post-Panamax vessels and is expanding to accommodate more; the Port of Liverpool was anticipated to be capable by 2015, although was delayed until mid-2016; and others are considering such expansion.
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