Construction on the Panama Canal expansion project is moving forward at a good pace, according to the Panama Canal Authority, with three of four dry excavation projects completed and lock design and construction underway.
The $5.25 billion project is on track to be completed by April 2015. Construction on a 4.6 kilometer four-lane bridge connecting canal banks on the Atlantic side of the canal began Jan. 8. It will stand 75 meters above sea level.
The expansion, which will allow the canal to accommodate larger ships, is expected to help the Port of Houston remain competitive with other major U.S. ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach. The project is not likely to result in a significant economic boost right away, said Bill Diehl, president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau, but it is vital to keeping Texas ports in business.
"Part of our early research involved going out to ship yards around the world and looking at the size of the container ships that were being built. " Diehl said. "The world market was building ships twice the size that we could handle."
The expansion involves adding a third set of wider, deeper and longer locks to accommodate vessels up to 13,000 TEUs—a measurement used in container transportation with one TEU representing a 20-foot-long, eight-foot-wide and 8.5-foot-tall container. Current locks allow ships up to 5,000 TEUs.
A November 2012 report from the Panama Canal Stakeholder Working Group said the expansion would have a significant effect on the Port of Houston's ability to export goods in the long term. Texas is the leading export state in the country, particularly with agricultural products, coal, chemical and petrochemical products, and consumer goods.