The Panama Canal Authority exists to produce maximum sustained benefit from (their) geographic position. It’s a geographic position that nations, traders, and explorers have hoped to maximize through the ages.
The U.S. transferred their authority of the Panama Canal back to the Panamanian government in 1997. At that time, studies indicated that the Canal would be at its maximum capacity for transit traffic by the year 2011. The Panamanian Government decided at that time that they weren’t interested in the canal infrastructure losing the potential for added use.
Interestingly enough, the need to expand the canal was known decades ago. The U.S. Government actually started working on the third shipping lane back in 1939, stopping work in 1942 because of WWII. So the Panama Canal Authority used those plans from the 1930s to start the work that has become the current Canal Project.
(In fact, the Panama Canal was designed to handle US Navy ships, like the Texas and New Jersey. They were the “Panamax”class ships of the time.)
The expansion will be complete by 2014, the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the Canal. The project is funded by both public and private investments. The project cost is expected to cost $5.25 Billion, funded roughly in half by a tax in Panama approved by the voters. The other half is provided through an international investment package.
Unheard of in the U.S., the entire project will be completed in a decade. Ten years, start to finish, from design and planning to full opening. It’s been joked (although there’s much truth in this joke) that this entire project will be finished in the time it takes the U.S. to finish a feasibility study.
What does this mean to the average person? Well, it means absolutely nothing in a direct sense. But it’s this kind of incredible engineering and planning that allows us to have our iPads and other widgets, it allows US commodities to access worldwide markets; it means less fuel consumed promising a lower environmental impact. It means jobs. Period. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s a pretty simple formula of a worldwide system that does reach into the home of the average U.S. system.
It’s a bit disturbing, too, that such a phenomenal piece of work can be completed so quickly and efficiently in a third world nation. We have the capacity in the U.S., too, but we just can’t get it done. How frustrating is that?