The Panama Canal’s big dig

April 24, 2012, 1:00 PM UTC

Excavation of the 3.8-mile-long Pacific Access Channel will add a larger waterway next to the current canal.

FORTUNE — The shipping industry has outgrown the nearly 100-year-old Panama Canal, so the canal is adding a third lane with wider, deeper, and longer locks. The eight-year, $5.25 billion project will add three 1,400-foot-long, 60-foot-deep chambers to each end of the 50-mile route connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans — an increasingly vital (and lucrative) passage between Asia and the Eastern U.S.

By the numbers

73%: Growth in shipping from Asia to the East Coast of the U.S. from 2000 to 2011. During that time the Panama Canal’s toll revenue grew 201%.

788 million: Amount of dirt, in cubic feet, excavated and dredged for the canal’s Third Lane Expansion project — enough to fill 671,943 standard shipping containers.

12,000: Container capacity of post-“Panamax” cargo ships, so called because they aren’t yet able to pass through the canal (current maximum size is 5,000 containers).

Source: Panama Canal Authority

This story is from the April 30, 2012 issue of Fortune.