The Panama Canal Expansion and Commerce


The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing this afternoon on the expansion of the Panama Canal and the effects that the expansion will have on freight movement in the United States. The issue is one that ASCE has been discussing in depth over the past few months, because the economic impacts could be severe.

During the hearing Chairman Jay Rockefeller strongly stated that the United States has “grown accustomed to an ad-hoc approach to maintaining our surface transportation network”.  He went on further to state that “this lack of planning and shortsighted thinking doesn’t reflect what our country truly needs: A strategic, long-term vision for rebuilding our transportation system.” Rockefeller finished his opening remarks declaring that without a vision and the ability to make tough choices, that the U.S. will end up burdened with “inadequate infrastructure” as the rest of the world continues investing.

With the scheduled expansion of the Panama Canal by 2015, the average size of container ships is likely to increase significantly, affecting the operations at most of the major U.S. ports that handle containerized cargo and requiring both sectors to modernize.  Needed investment in marine ports includes harbor and channel dredging, while inland waterways require new or rehabilitated lock and dam facilities.

To remain competitive on a global scale, U.S. marine ports and inland waterways will require investment in the coming decades beyond the $14.4 billion currently expected. ASCE reports that with an additional investment of $15.8 billion between now and 2020, the U.S. can eliminate this drag on economic growth and protect:

  • $270 billion in U.S. exports
  • $697 billion in GDP
  • 738,000 jobs in 2020
  • $872 billion in personal income, or $770 per year for households

Unless America’s infrastructure investment gaps are filled, transporting goods will become costlier, prices will rise, and the United States will become less competitive in the global market. As a result, employment, personal income, and GDP will all fall due to inaction.

ASCE’s full statement for the record can be seen here.

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