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BYLINE: William Armbruster and Joseph Bonney
Shippers, carriers and ports looking for improved service options to the East Coast could get some relief - in 2014. That's when Panamanian authorities hope to complete a new set of locks that could accommodate 12,000-TEU container vessels, compared with the present limit of about 5,000 TEUs.
The $5.25 billion project would be financed by annual toll increases of 3 percent to 3.5 percent over the next 20 years, according to Alberto Aleman Zubieta, administrator and chief executive of the Panama Canal Authority.
Before the project can go ahead, however, Panama's National Assembly must enact legislation to schedule a public referendum, most likely this fall.
If voters approve, construction will begin next year and could be completed in seven or eight years. Shipping industry executives and canal officials have discussed the possibility of building a new set of locks for decades, but the need has become far more urgent in the past decade because of the boom in global trade, especially from China.
Most imports from China and other countries in East and Southeast Asia are shipped to the West Coast, but congestion in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's top two ports, and at intermodal yards has prompted growing interest in all-water routes.
Responding to that demand, carriers …