Cruise ships too wide to squeeze through the Panama Canal could be making the trip within a decade. That's when new locks will be built on both ends as part of a $5.25 billion expansion.
The expansion, which will double the size of the 93-year-old civil engineering marvel, will be covered by toll hikes that will raise $6 billion by the year 2025.
Ships using the Central American bypass produced $1.4 billion in revenue last year, according to the Panama Canal Authority.
Current locks measure only 108 feet wide -- too narrow for many megaships, tankers, and container vessels. The overhaul would feature new, wider locks on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides.
In addition to paying for itself, the Panama Canal expansion will provide more than 40,000 new construction jobs. It currently has 8,000 employees.
The largest modernization project in the history of the canal was approved late last year in a vote of Panamanians. The new construction will not only raise money for the government of Panama but help reduce poverty in the Panama City area, where some roads remain unpaved.
Target date for completion of the new locks is 2015.
Constructed in two stages, first by the French from 1881-88 and later by the Americans from 1904-14, the Panama Canal stretches 51 miles from the Atlantic in the east to the Pacific in the west.
Since the ships of the early 20th century have long left active service, the canal requires expansion. At present, it cannot accommodate ships carrying more than 65,000 tons of cargo, though ships five times that large are in active service.
Although the 51-mile crossing takes an average of nine hours, more than 12,000 ships per year make the trip -- bypassing the far more difficult route around the tip of South America.
Administered by the government of Panama since 1999, the Panama Canal is still one of the busiest waterways in the world.