Four takeaways from Washington Post’s fresh coverage of the Panama Canal expansion

A really interesting must-read in The Washington Post for anyone following the controversies related to the proposed $650 million dredging of the Savannah River or the much broader issue of the expansion of the Panama Canal, now less than two years from completion.

From Expanded Panama Canal sparks race to be ready for bigger cargo ships:

This is a story about big, and how one of the biggest construction projects in the world, the remaking of the Panama Canal, will let bigger boats sail into deeper harbors, where authorities are spending billions dredging channels, blasting tunnels and buying cranes from China the size of 14-story buildings to accommodate super-sized cargo.

All this might knock a couple of dollars off the price of a smartphone shipped from Shanghai — or alleviate poverty in Panama, where the government plans to make a fortune in tolls — or create a windfall for the ports ready to receive the big ships, such as those in Baltimore and Norfolk.

Or not. Nobody’s sure, because no expert can predict with any certainty how the web of global trade routes will be redrawn, and who the winners and losers might be.

Key takeaways:

1. Despite various economic projections, no one can be certain what the trade impacts of the Panama Canal expansion will be.

2. The massive expenditures of tax dollars in the U.S. are happening without any clear national plan to maximize spending. States with major ports see themselves in competition with other states, not as working cooperatively for the betterment of the country.

3. West Coast ports are not going to surrender their current dominance of Asian cargo trade without a fight.

4. The cost of dredging Savannah’s port, the depth limitations (at 47′, a newly dredged port of Savannah would still be shallower than several other East Coast ports — a detail not actually mentioned in the piece), and the sheer length of the Savannah River channel clearly hurt the port’s competitiveness.