Panama Canal 2.0

Colorado’s MWH plays key role in waterway expansion

Tucked away in Broomfield is an international engineering firm leading the expansion of the Panama Canal, a man-made waterway now 100 years old but still considered one of the world’s great engineering feats.

MWH Global, which employs about 600 in Colorado, won the contract to serve as design lead for the canal’s expansion in 2009. The estimated $5.25 billion project will open the canal to ships that are up to three times the size current capacity allows.

When it opened in August 1914, the canal connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the Caribbean Sea and provided a safer route to the U.S. as well as nations in and around the Pacific and Atlantic.

The latest expansion includes construction of a new Pacific Ocean approach channel, excavation of the existing waterway and ocean entrances, and alterations to the Gatun Spillway that raise the man-made lake’s level approximately 1 ½ feet to provide more water storage and support the $3.4 billion components known as the Third Set of Locks (TSL), designed by MWH.

“I’ve been in the business for 35 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any single project as complex and challenging as the Panama Canal,” said Alan Krause, chairman and CEO of MWH.

The Colorado company will be featured on a special edition of H2’s (the newly rebranded History Channel) “Modern Marvels,” scheduled to air Feb. 7. The documentary-style program will focus on the technology, manpower and intellect required to complete the project.

“Very often the work we do goes unnoticed,” said Nicole Lang, senior communication specialist for MWH. “With the TV spot, I think it’s great that we get to bring our people into the story and expose the behind-the-scenes impact that engineers make on the world.”

Another Colorado company involved in the Panama project is CH2M Hill, serving as program manager throughout the build-out.

Roughly 95 percent of MWH's design is complete, but the new locks are not expected to be operational until the first part of 2016. The existing locks will give engineers easier access for maintenance and will continue operating.

MWH’s role in the global project is an obvious feather in the company’s cap, and the media exposure can only help when it comes to recruiting future talent.

“Since joining MWH, I’ve found it interesting that the millennial generation is looking for impactful work, the chance to travel and feel good when they come in to their jobs every day,” Lang said. “I hear those things over and over and with engineering and MWH you actually get to make a difference in the world.”

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