After numerous setbacks, delays and cost overruns the Panama Canal's massive expansion project, nine years in the making, is finally reaching completion with a launch date of 26 June 2016. Originally opened in 1914 the expansion, which is supposed to double the capacity of the canal, is supposed to enable the largest container ships, called New Panamax, to transit through the canal and increase capacity through the addition of another lane of traffic to a stretch of its course. Critics maintain that the massive project, with an estimated price tag of US $ 5.25 billion, was unnecessary and that its benefits will not go to the majority of Panamanians, instead accruing to bankers, lawyers and corporations that stand to gain from it. Others have expressed concerns about the environmental impact of much increased shipping traffic. The project was originally proposed in 2006 by the former Panamanian president, Martin Torrijos and approved in a national referendum in the same year by 76.8% of the population. Yet while the project is thought to have created around 35,000 to 40,000 jobs during the construction phase and should contribute to further job growth once operational numerous issues have been raised by environmental groups including the increased salination of Lake Gatun, the main source of drinking water for most of Panama, and the damage from increased shipping traffic through the country. Other critics have pointed out that the canal expansion simply wasn't necessary and could have been covered by building a new mega-port on the Pacific side where New Panamax ships could dock, be unloaded onto railways and taken across the Atlantic for further transport East.
Fernando Moleres visited the building sites along the canal route as they prepare to open to general traffic on June 26th and met with some of the tens of thousands of workers involved in this massive infrastructure project.