The Panama Canal Authority is planning a permanent road connecting North and South American land masses on the canal’s Atlantic side.
In the next few weeks, officials with the agency, known by its Spanish acronym ACP, plan to award a feasibility contract for possible alternatives for a permanent vehicular crossing at the Gatun Locks near Colon. Preliminary plans call for either a bridge or tunnel.
Currently, traffic must use a small road that runs directly in front of the locks. The arrangement requires that the only road crossing at that end of the canal must be closed when the locks are open for ships. This essentially cuts off one side of the isthmus from the other.
The route will become impassible when work begins on the new locks, which are part of the massive $5.2-billion Third Lane Expansion Project.
The ACP wants a permanent replacement road that will not interrupt canal operations. The project is separate from the Third Lane Expansion Project, says Jorge L. Quijano, ACP executive vice president of engineering and program management. “We have to make sure there is a component for a continuous connection across that area throughout the construction of the locks,” he says.
At present, the two permanent roads linking the North and South American land masses are both at the Pacific end of the canal. The Bridge of the Americas at the mouth of the waterway was completed in 1962 at a cost of $20 million, and the $120-million Centennial Bridge at the Galliard Cut opened in 2004.
After the contract is awarded, the selected contractor will have seven months to present the studies.