Panama Canal Expansion: Concrete Work Begins

In yet another major milestone for the Panama Canal Expansion Program, permanent concrete work for the Atlantic and Pacific new set of locks recently began – marking one of the most important phases of the construction. 

Last March, the contractor, Grupo Unidos por el Canal S.A. (GUPCSA), in charge of this project, started pouring lean concrete at both lock sites to level the surface in preparation for the permanent concrete work.

This month, GUPCSA poured structural marine concrete to shape the floor of the upper chamber in Gatun, on the Atlantic side. The concrete was poured into specialized industrial formwork that included a significant amount of rebar (steel bars or rods used to reinforce concrete), to ultimately shape the 100 cubic meter blocks that make up the lock floor.

The concrete mix, designed to guarantee a minimum service life of 100 years of operation to the waterway, was transported to the site using agitator trucks lined with insulating material to ensure a maximum temperature of 12 degrees centigrade at the moment of the pouring. Fifteen of these truckloads are required to pour each one of the blocks.

On the Pacific side, concrete pouring activities also began with the construction of the pit for the first of three lock crossunders or tunnels. Through these crossunders, trays and pipes will carry communication and electricity wires, drinking water pipelines and other components needed to operate the lock complex. Of note, each set of locks will have three crossunders.

Each of the pits is built by stacking 16 blocks made of structural concrete and rebar. Twelve trucks, with capacity to carry 8 cubic meters of concrete, are required to pour each of the blocks. The pits, at a height comparable to that of a 10-story building, will include a series of steps and an elevator that will enable access to the crossunder. Once completed, the crossunders will allow maintenance personnel to conduct their tasks in a safe environment.

The work at both construction sites took place under the oversight of Panama Canal Authority personnel. 

In its entirety, the new set of locks will require 4.8 million cubic meters of concrete.

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