A look inside the Panama Canal's trade route expansion

A look inside the Panama Canal's trade route expansion

PANAMA CANAL, PANAMA (WDAM) - The Panama Canal celebrated its 100th birthday last year, and within the next year, it is expected to open operations to its newest set of locks.

The canal expansion will allow larger ships to travel through the canal, such as aircraft carriers. In addition to larger locks, it will also be economical by using seven percent less water than the original canal locks, which use 52,000 gallons, according to Canal employee Ilay Marotta.

Marotta is the Executive Vice President of Engineering and Project Management for the Panama Canal, and she said the demand for canal expansion is obvious.

"Ships are getting a lot bigger worldwide, and also we were reaching maximum capacity in the existing canal," she explained.

Marotta, who is a native Panamanian and graduate of Texas A&M, said the increase in work force is not expected to be significant.

"Maybe 200-250 people at most," she said.

The expansion officially began in 2007, and there are several differences between the new locks and the originals. For starters, the locomotives currently found on either side of the locks that hold the line to the ship will be replaced with tug boats, something Marotta said is already used in other canals.

There will also be water-saving basins, which will help recycle some of the water during each transit. The method in which the filling of the locks will also change, with water ejecting from the side walls as opposed to rising from the bottom of the locks.

"That way, we don't have to shut down the lane to do maintenance on the floor of the chambers," explained Marotta.

Although she remained humble, Marotta's role for the project is impressive in its own right. She is the only woman in such a position, something she said gained attention locally and worldwide.

"They would say, 'Ilya, this is a man's world... Can you do this job? I says (sic) yes, of course I can do it. Why not? My husband supports me, my kids are grown up... and I love it!"

Approximately 40 vessels make a transit through the current locks each day, and Marotta said an expected 10-13 will travel the new locks, which runs parallel to the original set.