The Panama Canal expansion project had four main dimensions:
- New locks. Two complete new lock systems were built in parallel to the existing locks. They employ the rolling gates principle and use side basins to minimize water consumption. The gates are a dual system, implying that two independent gates are servicing the entrance/exit of each lock. This improves the reliability and the maintenance of the lock system since it is possible to maintain operations while one gate is serviced. The expanded Panama Canal includes the operation of both the old and new lock systems, allowing for conventional Panamax ships to use the old locks.
- Deepening of canal entrances. Both the Atlantic and Pacific access to the canal was dredged to accommodate larger vessel drafts.
- Deepening of the Culebra (Gaillard) Cut. The continental divide cut and the navigation channels between the Pacific Locks and Gatun Lake were expanded to accommodate deeper drafts and vessels circulating in both directions.
- Gatun Lake expansion. Deepening of the Gatun Lake navigation channel as well as raising the water level of the lake from 26.7 meters above sea level to 27.1 meters. This increased the water supply available to the lock systems.
Although the annual capacity only increased by about 2,000 additional ships able to transit the canal, it is through economies of scale that the impacts of the expansion are the most significant. Individual ship capacity in terms of TEU almost tripled while bulk capacity in deadweight tons more than doubled.