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Panama Canal Expansion

Idle cranes are seen at the construction site of the Panama Canal Expansion project on the outskirts of Colon City, Feb. 12, 2014. The project is already a $1 billion over budget.

© CARLOS JASSO/Reuters/Corbis

When the U.S. built the Panama Canal in the early 1900s, workers overcame daunting obstacles, from mudslides to malaria, to complete what was heralded as one of the world's engineering marvels. A century later, an ambitious upgrade of the canal, aimed at allowing it to serve more massive vessels and double the cargo moved in and out of the Western Hemisphere, is mired in man-made complications.

In early 2014, a dispute between the Panama Canal Authority and a consortium of European construction firms over who would cover a $1.16 billion cost overrun caused the work to grind to a halt for two weeks. Eventually, the two sides were able to agree upon stopgap financing that enabled work on the project to resume. As this article was published (2014), the canal upgrade was slated for completion by the end of 2015. But with a construction cost that's swelled by more than 30 percent to $5.3 billion, it's looking like a lot less of a bargain than it once did [source: Padgett]. Ironically, the $1 billion overrun brings the cost in line with the original bid made by rival Bechtel for the construction job in the first place [source: Associated Press].

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