Upgrade. Aging, narrow locks will be replaced by deeper, wider chambers.

Late last month, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) 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 construction of two new sets of locks that will open the waterway to the massive post-Panamax ships that currently cannot use the canal because they will not fit through the existing locks. The entire $5.25-billion expansion is expected to double the capacity of the waterway when it is completed in 2014.

The first round of the bid process approved four consortia comprising 30 companies: 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 with larger sets of locks at each end of the canal. 

Multinational engineering and construction consultant CH2M Hill is overseeing the expansion project. 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 plans to hold meetings with consortia representative to outline the specific content of the bid proposals. The proposals will be due in August 2008 and the canal authority plans to award the contract in December of next year. ACP says its evaluation of the bids will prioritize the best-value concept, with emphasis on technical components (60%) and price (40%).

The new gravity-operated, single-lane, three-step locks at the Atlantic and Pacific entrances will boast lock chambers 427 meters long by 55 m wide and 18.3 m deep with sufficient draft for the 366-m-long post-Panamax ships. Instead of the current configuration of miter gates, the new locks will use rolling gates similar to those at the Berendredt canal in Anbres, Belgium.

The new Pacific locks will be situated on the southwest side of the Miraflores Locks. The new Atlantic locks will be  east of the Gatun Locks.

The locks also will feature a series of water-saving basins approximately 70 m wide by 5.50 m deep. A basin will be built for each individual lock, allowing the water to be reused rather than flushed out to sea. Although the sheer size of the new lock chambers will require 65% more water than the existing locks, they will use 7% less water per transit.

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 this month for the first, $180-million major excavation portion of the project —dredging approximately 9.1 million cu m of material at the Pacific entrance. The Atlantic entrance dredging, estimated at $70 million, will be put to bid in 2009.