A construction team led by Spanish contractor Sacyr Vallehermoso SA has won the Panama Canal expansion’s largest contract to date, the design-build job to build a third set of locks on both the waterway’s Atlantic and Pacific openings.

Panama Canal, Contract
Photo: ACP
Current Panama Canal facilities are a tight fit for ships.

The team, which includes two U.S. engineers, proposes to construct the locks, a job estimated by owner Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to cost $3.48 billion, for $3.12 billion, ACP said on July 8.

ACP says that the team, known as Grupo Unidos for el Canal, also includes three other contractors: Impregilo SpA of Italy, Belgium’s Jan De Nui NV, and Constructora Urbana SA of Panama. Its design team team includes two U.S. firms: Broomfield, Colo.-based MWH and Tetra Tech, Pasadena, Calif., as well as Holland's IV Groep. Heerema Fabrication Group, also based in The Netherlands, is a team member as well.

The selection was based on Grupo Unidos’ score based on both technical evaluation and price proposal. The former represented 55% of the total score.

The selection is the culmination of a process that drew four teams comprising 30 global firms into the competition. One team chose not to submit a proposal, but the other two whose proposals fell short in the final competition were led by Bechtel International Inc., San Francisco, and Spain’s ACS Servicios, Comunicaciones y Energía, S.L.

The proposed third set of locks will employ sliding gates similar to those at the Barendregt canal in Amberes, Belgium, and a series of water saving basins used in Germany. ACP chose to integrate both the Atlantic and Pacific locks into a single design-build contract in order to ensure consistency in the final product. The single-lane, three-step set of locks will consist of lock chambers measuring 427 m long x 55 m wide x 18.3 m deep.

“Today’s event marks a critical milestone for the ACP and Panama as we determine which consortium will design and build the Canal�s new locks,” said ACP Administrator Alberto Alemán Zubieta. “Throughout the review period, the ACP’s Technical Evaluation Board and external auditors worked tirelessly to ensure an airtight course of action that reflects our staunch commitment to a fair, rigorous and transparent contracting process. We look forward to awarding the contract in the coming days.”

The quasi-governmental agency has spent nine months organizing project management in conjunction with its program manager, Englewood, Colo.-based construction giant CH2M Hill Cos.