The Panama Canal Authority’s (ACP) $5.2-billion expansion doubles the capacity of the canal and allows new-Panamax megaships safe and reliable passage through the facility, starting with the inaugural first ship that passed through the locks on June 26, 2016.

The design-build of two new lock complexes—one each on the Pacific and Atlantic ends of the canal—is the expansion’s most comprehensive project. The ACP awarded the design-build contract for the third set of locks to the international consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal, S.A. (GUPCSA). As part of the Consultores Internacionales del Canal de Panama (CICP), LLC joint venture team, Tetra Tech provided specialty engineering to support GUPCSA. 

Each new lock complex is composed of a three-lift lock with three water-saving basins per lift chamber, as well as a redundant closure system of eight rolling gates. Our team was responsible for the design of the lock valve system and the accompanying basins that are essential to move the massive new-Panamax ships through the canal.

Tetra Tech designed all project valves and bulkheads that regulate gravity flow from Lake Gatun to the oceans and the water-saving basin structures (including the conduits, trifurcations, valve structures, and the dividing walls) that empty and fill the locks. We also designed the wing wall inlet and outlet monoliths with complex 3D geometry arrangements, and the three 450-meter-long approach structures that align and stage ships as they enter or exit the locks. Tetra Tech is providing engineering assistance and quality assurance through the end of construction to project completion in August 2016.

Tetra Tech’s innovative design concepts have increased durability of valves, improved the seismic reliability of concrete structures, and reduced the volume of water needed to fill the locks. Tetra Tech designed 16,000 tons of valves to ensure the embedded steel parts will not need to be replaced over the project design life. Our state-of-practice seismic analysis helped develop reinforced concrete structures and valves that meet stringent seismic criteria—valve designs that include the most severe seismic loads ever used within a lock system. Tetra Tech’s design for the approach structures also addressed challenging and extreme tidal variations on the Pacific Ocean side.   

The water-saving basins conserve 60 percent of the water from each lockage to maintain water availability and quality in Lake Gatun and other waterways. The basins use seven percent less water than the existing lock chambers, thereby avoiding construction of additional reservoir storage along with deforestation and displacement of residents and wildlife.

Tetra Tech’s design team submitted 130 submittal packages comprising thousands of records over the course of the project. We successfully passed a detailed client audit of final, ready-for-construction (RFC), and post-RFC design submittals that verified we were fully conversant with the client’s quality management system and had comprehensive records to demonstrate compliance. The client noted, “This is particularly remarkable given the complex histories of many of the submittals. Congratulations on an excellent performance.”

Learn more about the expansion at ACP’s website.