In recounting the past, present and future of this majestic civil works project, we witness how American visionaries seized a source of inspiration and challenge to engineers and made the union of two grand oceans become a reality.
It took more than three centuries for the first proposal by Charles V of Spain in 1534 to be seriously considered. Twenty years later, in 1880, Frenchmen sailed to Panama to make the first attempt at the canal, but their efforts surprisingly failed due to diseases and financial difficulties. In 1903 the United States signed a treaty with Panama to construct the inter-oceanic canal, and over a span of the next ten years the Americans completed this task with great dedication and skill.
The United States and Panama exchanged their knowledge on maintenance and operation of this important project, which was administered by the Americans until 1979. The Panama government assumed full responsibility for canal operations on December 31, 1999, a historic moment celebrated by all Panamanians who were proud of the complete transfer of ownership. Today the Panama Canal provides commercial services to the entire world with superior working standards.
Now the Canal Administration Authority, committed to the improvement and modernization of the waterway, confronts a new challenge: expansion of the canal.
From studies and analysis of the canal arose the idea of creating a third lane of traffic in order to double the waterway's capacity. Work on leveling out each entryway, both on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, began on September 13, 2007.
Other phases of this project include the widening and deepening of the navigation channels along Gatún Lake, the entrances of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and Culebra Cut.
With the arrival of two new sets of locks, Panama faced the challenge of implementing a new infrastructure that requires resolving dredging and design issues for the logistics, since the seafaring navigation channels will need to be improved by increasing the maximum operating level of Gatún Lake.
This project has provided employment and training opportunities for professionals who are proud to take part in the most ambitious project being undertaken in Panama City.
To preserve the area's cultural heritage, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute was contracted, resulting in valuable findings.
How will it function?
Each complex will have 3 levels or chambers. Much like the Gatún Locks, the project will create a new lane with a lock on each side, which will provide capacity up to 49 meters (160 feet) wide, 366 meters (1,200 feet) long, and 15 meters (50 feet) deep, or with cargo up to 170,000 dwt and 12,000 TEU.
It will be located on the Pacific side, situated southeast of the Miraflores Locks and east of the Gatún Locks.
Expectations for the Future of the Panama Canal
After 100 years in operation, the innovation and ongoing maintenance employed on the Panama Canal has allowed it to efficiently reinvent itself with the aim of providing first-rate shipping services.
This acquired knowledge of operations combined with modern technology will bring about better physical work, coupled with the daily work in special communications that is fundamental incarrying out the administrative operations of vessel transits.
Techniques, designs, logistics, and analysis of opportunities to improve are at the threshold. Advances in energy savings, data processing speeds, physical space, and transparency are part of the canal's future.
The new resources generated are an investment for the entire country and are expected to generate an economic flow that benefits the Panamanian territory as a whole.