PANAMA CITY, Panama - Panama is embarking on an ambitious expansion of its storied canal to accommodate today's larger ships, recognizing that one of the engineering wonders of the world badly needs an update.
In a referendum marred by relatively low turnout, voters Sunday authorized the construction of a third set of locks so that vessels too wide for the current 108-foot-wide sections can take the shortcut between the seas.
"Today we have laid the groundwork to build a better country together," said President Martin Torrijos, who staked his political future on the plan.
His government said the $5.25 billion project, the largest in the canal's 92-year history, would create 40,000 jobs in a country where 40 percent of people live poverty and were unemployment sits at 9.5 percent. Currently the canal employs 8,000.
The Panama Canal Authority, the autonomous government agency that runs the waterway, says the project will double the capacity of the canal. Construction is set to begin in 2007 and will take up to eight years to complete. It will be paid for by increasing tolls, which will pay back $2.3 billion in loans to cover the initial costs. ...(continue article)