PANAMA CITY – Construction of a new set of locks for the Panama Canal will begin in January, the consortium that holds the concession for the expansion project said.
“We’re at the beginning and there are a lot of bureaucratic hurdles, presentations to make, permits to acquire. The real work begins in January,” Antonio Zaffaroni, executive director of the GUPC consortium, said on Friday.
He added that for now it is all about “preparation, relocating the animals, cutting down the trees.”
Zaffaroni said the first phase of the project will involve excavation work, as well as setting up “the installations for producing concrete, crushed stone, cement and equipment for unloading the supplies.”
GUPC, a consortium led by Spanish company Sacyr Vallehermoso, won the contract to build a third set of locks for the canal, beating out several other contenders with a $3.1 billion price proposal.
The proposal was the lowest offered among the three consortiums participating in the final phase of the bidding and was under the $3.4 billion ceiling set by the Panama Canal Authority. GUPC also won out because it received the highest score in a technical evaluation.
Regarding the doubts raised about the difficulty of completing the work at that cost, Zaffaroni said that at this time there is “no cause for concern.”
“Our budget is lower due to our better technical rating ... having studied the project well, (our budget) was lower because transport cycles, construction methods were optimized,” he said.
The international consortium, which also includes Italy’s Impreglio, Belgium’s Jan de Nul and Panama’s Constructora Urbana, will have 1,883 days – about five years and two months beginning Aug. 25, 2009 – to complete the project.
Construction of the third set of locks is considered the big prize in the Panama Canal expansion project, a huge undertaking estimated to cost $5.25 billion that still has one project remaining to be put up for bidding.
The canal, designed in 1904 for ships with a 267-meter (875-foot) length and 28-meter (92-foot) beam, is too small to handle the “post-Panamax” ships that are three times as big, making it necessary to expand by building the new set of locks.
The Panama Canal Authority, the government agency that manages the waterway, wants to double transit capacity.
The 80-kilometer (49-mile) canal, which currently handles about 5 percent of world trade, has been under Panamanian management since Dec. 31, 1999, when the United States surrendered it in keeping with the 1977 Torrijos-Carter treaties.