Panama to Vote on Canal Expansion Oct. 22

The Associated Press
Sunday, July 16, 2006; 4:01 PM

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Panamanians will vote Oct. 22 on whether to undertake the biggest modification to the Panama Canal since it was opened in 1914.

President Martin Torrijos will sign the bill approving the canal referendum on Monday, his office reported Sunday.

The $5.3 billion project would add a third set of locks on the canal to reduce the long lines of ships trying to cross and allow larger ships to pass through.

Public opinion polls indicate the measure is likely to pass.

The canal, 105 feet above sea level at its highest point, uses a series of parallel locks to lift ships to Lake Gatun and then back down again for the 50-mile transoceanic passage.

Opponents contend the project is based on uncertain projections about maritime trade and the world economy. They claim the project lacks an accompanying social development plan and will put the country in debt.

Officials say they will pay for the upgrade through loans and canal toll increases.

Panama took over the administration of the waterway on Dec. 31, 1999, when the U.S. military presence in Panama ended. The United States is the main user of the canal, followed by South American countries and China.

© 2006 The Associated Press