There were 6 places considered on the isthmus between Nicaragua and Columbia in South America for a canal. The 1st one that won general approval crossed Nicaragua, not Panama. There was an existing large lake in southwestern Nicaragua just north of its border with Costa Rica that could be incorporated into the canal’s design. However, Nicaragua had a high continental divide so a sea level canal was declared impossible and moved south to Panama. But now China, the country that uses the existing canal the most, is thinking of building its own canal in Nicaragua to save money. China figures that spending a trillion on a new canal now will eventually pay for itself by getting rid of user fees for all Chinese shipping. This new canal is currently on hold but many think it will happen.
In the meantime the Panama Canal has been expanded. Construction of 2 new lock systems, Cocoli and Agua Clara, began in 2007. Eight billion was spent on them, and they opened for use in 2016. Many predicted trouble because the new 1,490 feet-long locks have no bumpers and the ships using it are so huge that it’s a tight fit. Some say accidents are inevitable and water levels will cause problems. But the locks are, for now, functioning well and doubling the capacity of the passage to meet the needs of growing world trade among the 160 countries that benefit from using the Panama Canal. The first cruise company to send a ship through the new locks was Disney Cruise Line, and both Carnival and Norwegian say they will use them by the end of this year.
Also new is a 3rd bridge over the canal on the Caribbean side. It’s being built by the French but will be owned by the Panama Canal Authority. It’s a cable-stayed beauty that is high enough to allow Post-Panamax container ships coming out of the new Agua Clara locks to pass under it. These ships could not use the Panama Canal until the new locks went into operation. We watched as an enormous LNG, red and white ship with SK Resolute on its stern went through the new locks and pass under the still-incomplete Atlantic Bridge, which will open for traffic in 2019.