June 1, 2009

Canal expansion under way in Panama

A $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal is on time and on target for completion in five years, the head of the canal's supervisory authority says.

We are very much on time and on target, Panama Canal Authority chief Alberto Aleman said concerning the project that will allow super-sized tankers to traverse the Central American isthmus between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

The projec is expected to be completed in 2014.

When it is done, there will be a migration of freight to the canal. The implication is that Los Angeles and Long Beach ports will take a hit. The U.S. rail lines will also suffer, said Mark Page of Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd. in London.

Currently, 70 percent of the freight traveling from Asia to the eastern United States is put on trains or trucks on the West Coast.

In the meantime, Los Angeles and Long Beach Ports are upgrading facilities to position themselves to compete with the larger canal.

Art Wong, a spokesman for Long Beach port, said $1.6 billion would be spent on improvements over 10 years to keep up with the competition from Panama and from other ports.

Voters in Panama approved the project in 2006 and the digging began in 2007, although a contract worth more than $3 billion to construct two new locks has yet to be awarded, the Times said.