“We made it wider, we made it longer, we made it deeper,” said Alan Krause, Chairman and CEO of MWH Global, based in Broomfield. The company is the lead designer on a much-needed upgrade to the Panama Canal. It was originally built in 1914 to help ships avoid having to travel around South America to go between the Pacific and the Atlantic. A lot has changed since then, though.
“The existing canal is just simply too small to pass the bigger ships,” Krause said.
The larger ships can now carry 12,000 cargo containers, versus the usual 5,000. There is now also the equivalent of a traffic jam at the canal– ships can wait days to pass through it because of sheer demand. The alternative is unappealing and costly.
“It takes about 24 days to go around the southern tip of South America and the bigger ships cost about three quarters of a million dollars in fuel to actually do that,” Krause said. “So, it’s a big difference in terms of cost and distance in time.”
“Impressive- it is probably the biggest construction site that I will ever see in my life,” said Wonnie Kim, one of the many engineers from multiple countries working on the canal project.
The work involves not just an expansion, but also the installation of three new larger locks– each one longer than the Empire State Building is tall. In the end, the idea, Kim said is to help keep the world connected.
“I think the whole point of the Panama Canal the first time was creating this pathway to connect these two different oceans and people,” Kim said. “And so, it was about making life better and providing, really, just using engineering to make a better world.”
The U.S. handed over control of the canal to Panama in 1999 and the Panamanian government is financing the expansion. The expansion is scheduled to be finished next year.