The government in Egypt has announced plans to add an extra lane to the Suez Canal in an attempt to increase the number of ships using the canal each day.


The canal opened 145 years ago, and allows shippers to cut weeks—if not months—from the time to ship goods between Europe and Asia because the canal links the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea, which eliminates the need for a trip around Africa. The modern problem for the Suez Canal is that there is only one shipping lane, although there are occasional passing lanes where ships can pass each other.


A new 45-mile lane, plans for which were announced last week by Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, would allow ships to travel in both directions for just under half of the canal’s 101-mile length. The project also includes tunnels for motor vehicles and trains.


“This giant project will be the creation of a new Suez Canal parallel to the current channel,” said Mohab Mamish, the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, in a televised speech.


Construction of the new passage is scheduled to take three years, though President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has ordered it to be completed in a year, Mamish said. The project will reduce maximum waiting hours for ships to three hours from 11 hours, he said.


“As global trade grows and the Egyptian economy needs to develop its sources of hard currency, we had to think about the project of digging a new Suez Canal,” Mamish said. Work will be done by 37 Egyptian companies and the Egyptian army.


Once its cost is recouped, President Sisi hopes the project will boost Egypt’s economy. Revenues from the canal, which total about $5bn every year, are a crucial source of foreign currency for the Egyptian economy, which has suffered after three years of political instability. An official in the Suez Canal Authority told Reuters the new canal was set to boost annual revenues to $13.5 billion by 2023.


The new channel, part of a larger project to expand port and shipping facilities around the Suez Canal, is the latest move in Egypt’s strategy to increase its international profile and establish Egypt as a major trade hub. Indeed, earlier this year, Egyptian leaders announced plans to develop a logistics hub. Those plans call for the development of approximately 76,000 square kilometres around the Suez Canal to create an international industrial and logistics hub which, Egypt’s leaders believe, will further boost the country’s economic development.


News about expansion of the Suez Canal isn’t surprising. The expansion project underway at the Panama Canal includes a third set of locks to allow larger ships to pass through the waterway. Even after the expansion, the Panama Canal may still be too small to accommodate the world’s largest container ships, which helps explain the reasoning for a proposed Nicaragua Canal, announced by Nicaragua’s government this summer. The proposed passage through Nicaragua would be wider, which consequently would leave the country well placed to capitalize on a predicted rise in global shipping over the next twenty to thirty years.


All of these plans point out the growing number of—and size of—container vessels. These plans also cast a light on the role these passageways and logistics hubs may play in a country’s economic growth.