The new locks for the Panama Canal on the Pacific side will be built near the existing Miraflores locks in the footprint of a previous expansion effort abandoned due to World War II.
The Panama Canal Authority has opened the bid process for the $3.35-billion locks portion of the ongoing massive expansion of the historic waterway.
The "design-build" contracts will include the construction of two new sets of locks allowing the massive post-Panamax ships to utilize the waterway. The entire $5.25 billion expansion is expected to double the capacity of the historic waterway by the time it is complete in 2014.
"Releasing the (Request for Proposals) for the new locks is a major step forward in the creation of the new lane," said ACP Executive Vice President of Engineering and Program Management Jorge L. Quijano. "It is the most significant contract in the Expansion Program."
The existing locks on the Panama Canal use a miter gate system of swinging gates. The new locks will feature rolling gates that slide in and out of place.
Earlier this month, four consortiums composed of 30 companies were approved in the first round of the bid process - Consorcio C.A.N.A.L. led by ACS Servicios, Comunicaciones y Energía, S.L. of Spain; Consorcio Atlántico-Pacífico de Panamá led by Bouygues Travaux Publics of France; Bechtel, Taisei, Mitsubishi Corp., led by U.S.-based Bechtel Internacional, Inc. and Grupo Unidos por el Canal, led by Spanish company Sacyr Vallehermoso S.A.
The $5.25-billion expansion project will add a new lane of traffic through the waterway by the construction of new larger sets of locks on each end of the canal. When completed in 2014, the project will double the tonnage capacity and allow the transit of substantially larger vessels.
The current locks of the canal can only permit the passage of Panamax ships built to their exact dimensions - 33.53 meters (110 ft) wide by 320.0 meters (1050 ft) long.
The expansion project is being overseen by engineering and construction company CH2M Hill. The Denver-based firm was named project manager in August. Subcontractors on the team include DHV Group, Grupo TYPSA, CSA Group, and Earth Consultants International.
In February, the canal authority – known by its Spanish-language acronym, ACP - plans to hold meetings with consortia representative to outline the specific content of the bid proposals. The proposals will be due August 2008 and the canal authority plans to award the contract in December of next year.
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The ACP said it's evaluation of the bids will prioritize the best value concept, with emphasis on technical components (60 percent) and price (40 percent).
The new gravity-operated, single-lane, three-step locks at the Atlantic and Pacific entrances will boast lock chambers 427 meters long by 55 meters wide and 18.3 meters deep – with sufficient draft for the 366-meter-long post-Panamax ships. Instead of 'miter' gates uses by the existing locks, the new locks will use rolling gates similar to those at the Berendredt canal in Anbres Belgium.
The new Pacific locks will be located to the southwest side of the Miraflores Locks. The new Atlantic locks will be located to the east of Gatun Locks.
The locks will also feature a series of water saving basins approximately 70 meters wide by 5.50 meters deep. A basin will be built for each individual lock, allowing the water to be re-used rather than flushed out to sea. Although the sheer size of the new lock chambers will require 65 percent more water than the existing locks, they will use 7 percent less water per transit.
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The expansion project has picked up considerable momentum in the past few months as various portions of the effort have begun. The work on the expansion was officially inaugurated in September.
Bids are due next month involving the first major excavation portion of the project for he dredging of approximately 9.1 million cubic meters of material at the Pacific entrance to the waterway. The $180 million effort is needed to allow passage of the larger ships that will be using the waterway when the expansion project is completed.
The Atlantic entrance dredging, estimated at $70 million, will be put to bid in 2009.