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Corpus Christi Caller Times: Port officials celebrate Panama Canal’s expansion

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Washington, June 29, 2016 | comments

The Panama Canal is nearly 2,700 miles from Corpus Christi, but officials say its historic expansion will have a direct affect on the Coastal Bend's largest port, which is gearing up for increased vessel traffic.

Port Authority chairman Charles Zahn led a delegation from the Port of Corpus Christi to Panama last week to witness the opening of the expanded Panama Canal.

The $5.4 billion effort to transform the 102-year-old canal took nearly 10 years and 40,000 workers to complete. The new set of locks now allows ships carrying up to 14,000 containers, known as neo-Panamax ships, to sail a quicker path between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Zahn attended a ceremony Sunday to celebrate its completion. He was joined by port authority vice chairman Wayne Squires and secretary Barbara Canales.

Port officials feel the canal's expansion will open more opportunity for the port, which has been ramping up efforts to accommodate new growth.

Handysize and supramax vessels most commonly visit the port, and are capable of carrying up to 30,000 tons and 60,000 tons respectively. Larger "mini" capesize vessels, which can haul 85,000 to 120,000 tons, have recently docked on the San Patricio County side of the port, where they don't have to navigate the Harbor Bridge.

State transportation officials have scheduled an Aug. 8 ground breaking for a yearslong, $898 million project to replace the bridge with a more modern cable-stayed span, one with a clearance high enough to allow taller vessels.

The port also is in the final stages of a $28 million expansion of its railroad system, and also is building several new docks. Last year, the port authority also issued $115 million in revenue bonds to both buy land and to help finance a variety of capital projects over the next decade.

"As our region continues its current growth ... the Panama Canal expansion will allow greater opportunity for global trading opportunities," Zahn said.

The Cosco Shipping Panama — a Chinese container ship — was the first vessel to pass through the locks. The expansion project has already received 170 reservations for vessels to traverse the locks.

U.S. Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, recently added new language to the Fiscal Year 2017 House Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. Their hope was to improve the port's chances at securing money for its plans to deepen and widen its channel to 52 feet from its current depth of 45 feet.

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Tags: Trade