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Economic Research

Full Steam Ahead: Southeast Ports Prepare for Panama Canal Expansion

As the Panama Canal prepares to celebrate its 100-year anniversary in 2014, the vital waterway is undergoing an ambitious $5.25 billion expansion that could double its capacity. In "Full Steam Ahead: Southeastern Ports Prepare for Panama Canal Expansion," associate editor Nancy Condon examines the possible implications of the expansion for southeastern ports.

The expansion—slated for completion in 2014—will allow more and larger ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific, and the southeastern ports along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast are competing for a share of the anticipated increase in volume. Many of these ports are not currently equipped to handle the higher container volumes and larger ships, notes Condon, so are investing in expansion and modernization projects such as dredging access channels, installing new cranes, and adding or upgrading container facilities. Such projects have come under pressure from funding cuts and budget challenges brought about by the 2007–2009 recession, writes Condon, but ports "simply cannot afford to miss the opportunity to bring major business to their regions."

As the completion date draws nearer, it remains to be seen whether the expansion will significantly affect container volume and trade routes. Although many of the East Coast and Gulf ports are banking on an increase in container volume, a 2008 study by the Army Corps of Engineers suggests that the ports' expectations may be overly optimistic.

To learn more about the Panama Canal expansion and its possible impact on East Coast and Gulf ports, read the full article, featured in the third-quarter issue of EconSouth.