Referred to as the Third Set of Locks Project, the expansion of the Panama Canal is intended to double the capacity of the Canal by 2016 by creating a new lane of traffic to increase shipping and also allow larger ships in transit.
At this time there are only two shipping lanes in the Panama Canal; each lane has its own set of locks. The Panama Canal expansion will add a third lane through the construction of lock complexes at both ends of the canal. There will be one lock complex on the Pacific side, southwest of the existing Miraflores Locks. The other will be east of the existing Gatun Locks. They will each have three consecutive chambers designed to move vessels from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake and back down again.
There will be three lateral water-saving basins for a total of nine basins per lock and 18 basins in total. As the existing basins, they will be emptied by gravity, without the use of pumps. A portion of land the United States excavated in 1939 and suspended in 1942 because of World War II will be used for the new locks. Additional navigation channels will be connected to the existing channel system.
The new lock chambers will be 427 m (1,400.92 ft) long, 55 m (180.45 ft) wide, and 18.3 m (60.04 ft) deep. Although the existing gates are miter gates, the new gates will be rolling gates which are currently being used by nearly all existing locks with the same dimensions and have proven better. Tugboats will be used to position the vessels instead of locomotives. As with rolling gates, tugs are used by many for these purposes in locks of similar dimensions.
Seven to eight years were estimated for the construction of the third set of locks project, with the new locks beginning operations between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, roughly 100 years after the canal first opened. However, the expansion project fell six months behind schedule causing the opening date to delay opening to April 2015. The new gates were projected to be open for transit at the beginning of 2016.
The Panama Canal Authority announced in October 2011 the completion of the third phase of excavation for the Pacific access channel.
The first of 46 100-foot-tall reinforced concrete monoliths that will line the new Pacific-side lock walls was completed.
The Third Set of Locks Project will open up extra shipping lanes through the Gulf of Mexico and increase cargo shipping volume capabilities throughout the Southwest United States.