Panama, July 6, 2001. The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) wrapped up the drilling and blasting portion of its Gaillard Cut widening program yesterday using 63,489 pounds of explosives to set off a spectacular blast. The dry and wet excavation teams can now begin to clear out the final 50,298 cubic yards of remaining broken up material.

At present, dry excavation of the widening program is at 99.5 percent completion, having removed 23.2 million cubic meters of material, while wet excavation is at 90 percent completion with the removal of 10.8 million cubic meters of material thus far.

The Gaillard or Culebra Cut project was speeded up by more than 10 years in order to meet increasing traffic demands and consists of widening the Cut from 152 meters to at least 192 meters along straight stretches and up to 222 meters on curves. The Canal will be able to meet growing transit demands with greater operating capacity and more flexible traffic scheduling. Additionally, the project will enable two Panamax- sized vessels to transit simultaneously without compromising navigational safety.

The widening is part of several major ongoing projects featured in the Canal’s $1-billion modernization and improvement program, and will also benefit the waterway by improving the quality of transit services during locks’ maintenance periods and by reducing the risk of landslides that could disrupt Canal operations. This widening will essentially maximize locks’ capacity.

Once widening is finished, the Panama Canal will offer nearly unrestricted two-way transit services to the world’s merchant fleet 24 hours a day, thus ensuring that it remains an important contributor to the Panamanian economy as well as a vital route to world trade well into the future.