Panama Canal Expansion Program


Panama Canal Expansion Program

Looking forward to communicate further details to the amazing area of South East Asia, we will proceed to elaborate a short text about the greatest work of engineering until our date, the Panama Canal Expansion.

The Panama Canal Expansion is the largest project at the Canal since its original construction. The project will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal through the construction of a new set of locks, doubling the waterway’s capacity.

The Program consists of several components/projects: Click to download

  • New Locks (Third Set of Locks), which is the construction of two lock complexes, which will create a third lane of traffic.
  • Pacific Access Channel, also known as PAC4, which is the excavation of a 6.1 km-long access channel for the new Pacific locks  to bypass Miraflores Lake.
  • Dredging of the navigational channels along the waterway.
  • Improvements to water supply by raising Gatun Lake maximum operational level by 45 cm to improve the Canal’s water supply and draft.

What is the capacity of the expanded Panama Canal?

The existing locks allow the passage of vessels that can carry up to 5,000 TEUs. After the expansion the Post-Panamax vessels will be able to transit through the Canal, with up to 13,000 TEUs.

What is the objective of the Expansion Program?

The main objective of the Expansion Program is to increase capacity to meet demand growth with enhanced customer service. The Expansion will double the Canal’s capacity, having a direct impact on economies of scale and international maritime trade. It will help maintain the Canal’s competitiveness and the value of the maritime route through Panama.

How much is the Expansion Program?

The overall program has a cost of US$5.25 billion.

How is it financed?

To procure the required financing of US$2.3 billion to complete the expansion of the waterway, the Panama Canal Authority signed contracts with a group of bilateral and multilateral credit institutions.

Multilateral and Development Agencies Amount
Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) $ 800 million
European Investment Bank (EIB) $ 500 million
Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) $ 400 million
International Finance Corporation (IFC) $ 300 million
Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF) $ 300 million

When did construction begin?

Work on to expand the Panama Canal officially began in September 2007.

How many job opportunities have been created with the Expansion Program?

The Panama Canal Expansion Program has become a significant source of job opportunities and training for professionals in different job fields. More than 30,000 jobs have been created since its execution.

How does the program deal with paleontological and archaeological findings?

As part of the efforts to preserve the cultural heritage, highly-valuable archaeological items, such as a 16th-century Spanish dagger, pre-Colombian arrowheads and bottles dating from last century have been recovered from excavation sites, restored and preserved.

A contract for paleontological research signed by the Panama Canal Authority with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) concluded in 2012. As a result of the work, 8,862 items were collected and catalogued, of which 5,377 are made up of rock and sediments and 3,485 are fossils.

For more information about this project:

How does the program deal with environmental impact?

Activities under the Panama Canal Expansion Program abide by strict environmental standards. Along with its contractors for each of the components and in coordination with Panama’s National Environmental Authority (ANAM) and the Aquatic Resources Authority (ARAP), the Canal conducts wildlife rescue and relocation activities as work progresses. Mammals, reptiles and birds have been rescued and relocated to safe areas.


What is the Third Set of Locks project?

localizacion canal

The Third Set of Locks project is the most important component of the Expansion Program. It entails the construction of the two new lock complexes in the Pacific and Atlantic sides of the Panama Canal, creating a third lane of traffic for bigger ships. Each lock complex will have three-steps.

To whom was the contract awarded to?

The contract was awarded to international consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal, S.A. (GUPC).

 Grupo Unidos por el Canal

Consortium Members:

  • Sacyr Vallehermoso S.A. – Leader (Spain)
  • Impregilo S.p.A. – (Italy)
  • Jan de Nul n.v. – (Belgium)
  • Constructora Urbana, S.A. – (Panama)

Designers (subcontractors):

  • Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH) – Leader (United States)
  • IV-Groep – (Holland)
  • Tetra Tech – (United States)

Gate Manufacturers (subcontractor):

  • Cimolai – (Italy)

How much does this project cost?

The Third Set of Locks design-build contract has a total fixed cost of US$3.2 billion.

When was it awarded?

It was awarded on July 15, 2009.

When did work formally begin?

Work began on August 25, 2009.

Where will the new locks be located?

One lock complex will be located on the Pacific side to the southwest of the existing Miraflores Locks. The other complex will be located to the east of the existing Gatun Locks.

How will it work?

Each lock complex will have three levels or chambers. The configuration will be similar to the existing Gatun Locks. The project will create a new lane with one lock on each side, providing a capacity to handle vessels up to 49 meters (160 feet) wide, 366 meters (1,200 feet) long and 15 meters (50 feet) deep, or with a cargo volume of up to 170,000 DWT and 12,000 TEU.

What are the water-saving basins?

Each lock chamber will have three water-saving basins, which will reuse 60 percent of the water in each transit. There are a total of nine basins for each of the two lock complexes.

There are a total of 18 basins for the entire project. Each water-saving basin is approximately
70 meters wide by 5.50 meters deep.

saving water

What are the dimensions of the lock complexes?

Lock chambers will be 427 meters (1,400 feet) long by 55 meters (180 feet) wide, and 18.3 meters (60 feet) deep.

How much concrete needs to be poured?

The construction of the new locks includes the use of reinforced steel, a technology which did not exist during the construction of the current Panama Canal. Completing both new lock complexes will require a total of 4.4 million cubic meters of concrete.

The new lock complexes will require more concrete than the 3.4 million cubic meters used for the current Panama Canal, since they are 60% bigger.

What kind of gates will be required for the new locks?

The new locks will have 16 rolling gates operating from concrete recesses located perpendicular to the lock chambers. This is different from the current locks which use miter gates. Such gate configuration turns each recess into a sort of dry dock which will allow maintenance of the gate on site without the need to remove it and therefore interrupt operations. This design increases the capacity and flexibility of lock operations, and allows for shorter Maintenance time.

How many gates will be required for the new locks?

There are a total of 16 rolling gates required for the new locks (eight on each complex).

Where were the lock gates built?

The gates were built by subcontractor Cimolai SpA in Italy in seven different factories in the northeastern part of Italy.

How tall is each gate?

The gates have different dimensions depending on their location in the lock chamber. They are all 57.60 m long, 8-10 m wide, and the height depends on the location but between the shortest one is 22.30 meters and the lowest one is 33.04 m height depending on the chamber.

How much does each gate weigh?

The gates weight on average 3,200 tons. However, since they have different sizes, weight can range from 2,100 tons to as much as 4,200 tons.

How much will the gates cost?

They cost $547.7 million (including transportation).

What is the location of each gate?


What is the Pacific Access Channel?

Work to expand the Panama Canal officially began in September 2007 with dry-excavation work for the creation of the Pacific Access Channel that will link the Third Set of Locks on the Pacific side to Culebra Cut. This project has four phases known as PAC1, PAC2, PAC3 and PAC4.

The work calls for the excavation of some 50 million cubic meters of material. The first three dry-excavation phases have already been completed (PAC1 – PAC3).

To date, the required depth to enable navigation by vessels with deeper draft has already been achieved.

Who is in charge of the fourth phase of the project, known as PAC4?

Consortium ICA-FCC-MECO is in charge of the fourth phase of the new 6.1 kilometer-long channel.

A 2.3 kilometer-long dam (Borinquen Dam) needed to separate the waters of Miraflores Lake from those of the new Pacific Access channel is being built under this project.


What areas need to be dredged for the Expansion?

Dredging activities to enable safe navigation by Post-Panamax vessels upon completion of the Panama Canal expansion are vital to the Program. Most of the work under the various projects has already been completed.

Pacific Entrance

This contract was awarded to Belgian company Dredging International on April 1, 2008. The work consisted of widening the navigation channel on the Pacific entrance to a minimum of 225 meters and deepening to 15.5 meters below mean low water springs and partial construction of the south access to the Pacific locks.

A total of 8.7 million cubic meters of underwater material were dredged under this component of the Expansion Program using world-renown high-tech, powerful equipment like dredges D’Artagnan, Vlaanderen XIX and Lange Wapper.

The work was completed during the last quarter of 2012.

Atlantic entrance

This contract was awarded to Jan de Nul n.v. on September 25, 2009.

Dredging of the 13.8-kilometer area included widening of the existing Atlantic entrance navigation channel from 198 meters to a minimum of 225 meters as well as the north access channel to the new Atlantic locks to a minimum of 218 meters.

An option for additional dredging up to 16.1 meters was executed, which represented an extra 2.3 million cubic meters of material.The contractor deployed several dredges simultaneously along the area, including hopper dredge Fillipo Bruneleschi and cutter-suction
dredges Hondius and Marco Polo.

The work, completed in April of this year, included dredging and dry excavation of nearly 17.9 million cubic meters of material.

Dredging of Gatun and Culebra Cut

This project consists of the removal of some 30 million cubic meters of material to deepen and widen the navigational channels in Gatun Lake and to deepen the navigation channel in Culebra Cut. Work in the Cut was completed at the end of 2012.

Most of the dredging work in Gatun Lake is being conducted by personnel and equipment of the Canal Dredging Division, with the support of the dredge Cornelius, rented to Boskalis. The remainder of the work was awarded to contractors Jan De Nul n.v., which dredged the north entrance to the new Pacific Access Channel (completed in November 2012) and Dredging International S.A., was responsible for dredging the reaches along the north end of the Gatun Lake navigation channel (completed in March 2012).

Work under the latter project included the recovery of archaeological findings from the waters of Gatun Lake, which spans 422 kilometers and is vital to Canal operations.


What does the project of raising Gatun Lake’s maximum operating level entails?

This project consists of raising the maximum operating level of Gatun Lake from 26.7 to 27.1 meters, to improve the Canal´s water supply. The project will enable additional water storage capacity for Gatun Lake by nearly 200 million cubic meters, which will allow for approximately 1,100 additional transits every year.

The project calls for the modification of specific structures in Gatun and Pedro Miguel locks. All 14 Gatun spillway gates were also extended and two additional gates were built at the Canal industrial dry dock. To ease the maintenance of the taller spillway gates, two new caissons or floating gates were also acquired.

steel giants

Published by Embajada y Consulado General de Panamá en Tailandia

Official wordpress site of the Embassy of Panama In The Kingdom of Thailand.

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