Panama Canal Authority recently announced their expansion efforts have fallen six months behind schedule, pushing the completion date to April 2015 rather than October of 2014, as originally planned.
Currently, there are two lanes of locks that allow cargo ships up to 965 feet long and 106 feet wide to pass through. Prior to the expansion, the canal operated at a capacity of 35 ships per day, forcing dozens of vessels to wait a day or longer before entering the canal.
The main component of construction is the addition of a third lock that will allow up to 15 additional vessels to pass through daily. The new locks will account for about half the cost of the $5.25 billion project and will operate similar to the old ones - moving vessels through a series of chambers based on the water level.
Major renovations will increase the depth and width of the Gatun Lake and Culebra Cutto to allow larger ships, up to 25 percent longer and 50 percent wider to pass. According to ACP officials, the locks in the canal will also use 7 percent less water after the expansion.
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In June 2012, the ACP reported 41 percent of the project’s construction was complete. While dredging work remains well ahead of schedule, delays in constructing the new locks continue to hinder deadlines.
According to ACP data, the dredging of the Pacific and Atlantic entrances is well above 85 percent complete. However, as a result of revisions in the contractor’s design, the construction of the locks is estimated at seven months behind schedule.
Hoping to attract vessels, the Panama Canal Authority officials will offer special rates to large ships transporting products such as coal and iron ore. Money generated from toll rates, typically several hundred thousand dollars for large ships, will be used to pay off the project’s loan debt from development banks.