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Panama Gets a Go on Canal Expansion. Is Nicaragua Next?

By law, the Panama Canal Authority had to submit its plans for expansion to the country’s voters. Results of the national referendum indicated that nearly 80% of the population backed the move.

Expansion plans call for a new traffic lane along the existing Canal. The new lane will result in a doubling of the waterway’s capacity and will allow wider post-Panamax vessels to use the Canal for the transit between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Estimated cost for the project is $5.25 billion and will be paid for by Canal customer through a system of graduated toll increases.

Beside greater width, the new system will use environmentally sound basins located next to its locks that will permit the reuse of 60% of the water in each transit. The use of basins means no new dams need to be built, the danger of flooding is eliminated and no communities need to be relocated.

"We spent years studying, researching and preparing and we are ready. This project will be done efficiently and transparently,” says Dr. Ricaurte Vasquez Morales, chairman of the Canal's board of directors and concurrent minister for Canal affairs. “With this vote, the Canal will be able to grow with demand, improve service, spur economic growth in Panama and maintain the Canal's competitive advantage."

Meanwhile in Nicaragua, after a mere half-millennium of talk, there is some motion toward digging a 178-mile link between the Atlantic and Pacific. “We are not competing with Panama,” claims Mario Alonso, president of Nicaragua’s Canal commission and former head of the country’s central bank. “We are doing different things.” According to engineering studies, ships too large for an enlarged Panama Canal would be able to transit one in Nicaragua, making the the trip in 26 hours. Such a move would save an additional 36-hour trip around Cape Horn and an estimated $2 million more in transportation costs.

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