Are we ready for the expanded Panama Canal? Believe it or not, the job is "90 percent done"
In the New York Harbor area we've had an ongoing awareness of the Panama Canal expansion that's been in progress, because the "New York" port -- which nowadays means almost exclusively New Jersey's adjacent Newark Bay ports, Port Elizabeth and Port Newark -- has known that it isn't equipped to accommodate the taller and deeper ships scheduled to be able to pass through the expanded canal. The most conspicuous manifestation of that unpreparedness has been the 1928-31 Bayonne Bridge, connecting the NYC borough of Staten Island to the NJ mainland.
The bridge has barely been able to accommodate what have been known as "Panamax" ships. There's no way the even more massive new generation of vessels could slide through. As Wikipedia explains:
(I know I should have done some digging for a current estimate of the status of the project. But I'm not a fanatic about it. Meanwhile, the little-talked-about cause for apprehension with the massive bridge-raising project is that nobody really believe the raised bridge will allow Newark Bay access for farther-in-the-future generations of ships built for the Panama Canal's expanded capability.)
The Bayonne Bridge at sunset, before the big roadbed-raising
The Port Authority has launched a $743.3 million rebuilding project to raise the roadbed within the existing arch to allow larger container ships to pass underneath. The expansion of the Panama Canal, which will allow the passage of larger ships coming from Asia to reach the East Coast, was the impetus for the Port Authority's decision to raise the height of the bridge. At the moment, the span presents a difficult obstacle to large container ships passing under it on the way to and from Newark Bay. Its clearance of between 151 to 156 feet (46–48 m) above the Kill Van Kull depending on the tide means that some of today's ships, which can reach 175 feet (53 m) above the waterline, must fold down antenna masts, take on ballast or wait for low tide to pass through. The problem will become more serious after the Panama Canal expansion project allows post-Panamax ships to become commonplace.
On April 24, 2013, the Port Authority's Board of Commissioners awarded a $743.3 million contract to a joint venture of Skanska Koch and Kiewit Infrastructure Company. The work, begun in July 2013, will raise the road deck by 64 feet (19 m), create 12-foot wide lanes, including a bicycle and pedestrian lane, and install a median divider and shoulders. This would raise the bridge's clearance to 215 feet (66 m) by building a new roadway above the existing roadway within the current arch structure. A gantry crane rolling on top of the arch will construct one rope-supported section of the new roadway at a time, using a temporary beam to support the existing roadway while each rope is replaced. The existing roadway will then be removed. The Port Authority believes it is possible to build the new roadway without interrupting traffic flow between Staten Island and Bayonne. In July 2012 the Port Authority announced construction would begin in Summer 2013, to be completed by late 2016. In this timeline, removal of the existing roadway would be completed by late 2015, in time for the opening of the widened Panama Canal. The pedestrian and bicycle lane were closed on August 5, 2013 for the duration of the project.
We've been hearing about the Panama Canal expansion for so long, it's hard to believe that it's actually more or less happened! Our pal Mai Armstrong at the Working Harbor Committee blog directs our attention to this Transport Topics post, "Panama Canal Expansion Is 90% Complete":
The Panama Canal expansion project is 90% complete with the start of filling new locks on the Atlantic Ocean side of the waterway.
The step was announced by the Panama Canal Authority in a statement outlining the filling of the lower chamber of Atlantic locks. The move “signals the start of a deliberate and methodical phase of operational tests and quality control," the statement said.
The expanded waterway, with an additional lane and facilities that will double capacity, is expected to open in the spring. The $5.25 billion project was begun more than seven years ago and delayed at times by payment disputes with contractors.
“This event highlights the magnitude of what we have been working on for the past seven years,” canal Administrator Jorge Quijano said. “Filling the locks with water is the culmination of arduous years of labor and the realization that we are within arm’s reach of the completion of one of the most impressive infrastructure projects of our time.”
The canal expansion has encouraged investment in East Coast ports, such as Miami, New York/New Jersey and Baltimore, to deepen channels with the expectation of larger vessels calling there with more cargo.
Water levels eventually are being raised to a height of nearly 90 feet, initially by pumping in 50,000 cubic meters of water from Gatun Lake to test the locks. Four months of testing are planned.
“With the addition of these water-savings basins,” Quijano said, “we will recycle nearly 60% of the water used in every lockage, using the world’s most advanced systems and enhancing the canal’s reliability. With this new phase, expansion nears closer and closer to completion.”
[Click to enlarge.]