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The Making Of: The Panama Canal Expansion Program, One of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Modern World’

The Jacobs-supported Panama Canal Expansion Program ranked 27th on the Project Management Institute’s Top 50 Most Influential Projects list.

From Burj Khalifa and the Belt and Road Initiative, to Sorek Desalination Plant and the Sydney Opera House, the Project Management Institute (PMI)’s list of the 50 most influential projects of the past half-century is packed with iconic engineering wonders.

Amongst them? The Panama Canal Expansion Program, No. 27 on PMI’s list.

Considered an isthmus, or a narrow strip of land bordered by sea on either side, Panama has become an important hub connecting North and South America. Panama features modern infrastructure, including the world’s longest highway, the 19,000-mile Pan-American Highway and what the American Society of Engineers has called one of the seven wonders of the modern world—the 51-mile Panama Canal.

And, we’re fortunate to have our Jacobs brand associated with this engineering marvel. Our relationship with the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) dates back to 2007 when they selected CH2M (now Jacobs) to assist in the program management delivery of the $5.25-billion expansion of the Panama Canal.


Using a Project Management Office, or PMO, proved to be beneficial in delivering this program, which included the largest ($3.1-billion) single design-build project. The PMO helped establish a clear matrix of project authority and the range of budget and schedule changes that each level of authority could approve. By giving clear decision-making authority to people at each level, from the project manager to the board of directors, the project wasn’t held back by bureaucracy. Jacobs was part of the integrated Program Management team providing leadership, mentorship, technical expertise and advice to the ACP.

The project included design and construction of the new Atlantic and Pacific locks to create a third lane of traffic, the Pacific access channel dry excavation and dam construction and multiple improvements to widen and deepen the shipping channel. These efforts effectively doubled the Canal’s tonnage capacity and made room for much longer and wider Neo-Panamax ships. The Lock’s project also included a more efficient water management strategy that utilizes 7% less water for the operation of the third set of locks as compared to the original locks per transit even with 2.5 times shipping capacity increase. The use of the water saving basins allows an overall 60% reduction of water usage for the new locks. The improvements also opened the way for additional trade and greater opportunities for people of Panama and economies around the world—bolstering the country’s economy for decades to come.

 “If we were going to continue to be a global player in the world of commerce, the Canal had to add not only more ships but bigger ones,” says Ilya Marotta,Deputy Administrator for the Panamá Canal Authority. “The project united the country.”

Since this project was completed in 2016, we’ve worked with the ACP on a three-year Technical Services Contract, which was recently renewed for an additional three years. Panama continues to be a rapidly growing and developing country, and we’re actively supporting its growth and future potential.

Recently Jacobs President and COO Bob Pragada made a visit to the Panamá Canal Program where he emphasized our continued commitment to and long-term support and partnership with the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).
Recently, Jacobs President and COO Bob Pragada made a visit to the Panamá Canal Program where he emphasized our continued commitment to and long-term support and partnership with the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).

 “Jacobs is honored to have played a role in the iconic Panama Canal Expansion Program—a critical project that supersized a century-old waterway to meet Panama’s modern shipping demands,” said Jacobs Program Manager, Panama Canal Expansion Program Rick Robertson. “We’ve had a strong relationship with ACP for many years, and we’re proud to continue supporting ACP in the on-going activities to complete the Canal’s expansion efforts.”

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