Seeing a giga project up close – ASCE members visit the construction site of the Panama Canal at the 2014 Global Engineering Conference

Participating in a tour of the Panama Canal was one of the very special moments for me at ASCE’s 2014 Global Engineering Conference.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of this giga project. Upon completion, the impact of this civil engineering project on the world will be equally huge.

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Panama and sail through the canal on two different cruises. Seeing the locks from a ship is quite different. The emotional impact of seeing the expansion of this landmark project nearing completion was very profound.

Historically, there has been only two channels. The current expansion project entails adding a new third channel with two new sets of locks – one on the Atlantic side and one on the Pacific side. Each lock set will have three chambers.  The existing navigational channels through Gatun Lake are being widened and deepened by raising the height of the lake, and the Culebra Cut will also be made deeper. Upon completion, all but about 3% of the world’s ships will be able to pass through.

For the U.S., it will mean a significant reduction in the amount of time it will take for cargo to reach the Gulf and West coasts. This will likely impact the cost and how goods are shipped between the U.S. and Asia as well as South America.  We live in an amazing time in history.

What other global projects do you think will change our future? What innovations exist today that could have improved projects built in the past?


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