Memorandum by Mr. Murray M. Wise of the Division of Caribbean and Central American Affairs

President Jiménez6 has announced that Panama will at the forthcoming round-table discussions take up with the United States the question of the construction of a tunnel under the Panama Canal at Balboa.

This Government’s commitment of May 18, 1942 reads as follows:

“The Government of the United States is well aware of the importance to the Government and the people of Panama of constant and rapid communication across the Panama Canal at Balboa and is willing to agree to the construction of a tunnel under or a bridge over the Canal at that point, when the present emergency has ended. Pending the carrying out of this project, the Government of the United States will give urgent attention, consistent with the exigencies of the present emergency, to improving the present ferry service.”7

As yet there is no final agreement among Army and Navy officers that additional transportation facilities at Balboa should be in the form of a tunnel rather than a bridge. However, with the coming of the atomic era the Army is inclining to go along with the Navy which has always opposed the bridge idea.

When I was in Panama in July 1945, Governor Mehaffey8 said that an estimate made in 1941 placed the cost of a tunnel at Balboa at approximately $15,500,000. The Governor said that $3,000,000 or more would have to be added to that now due to increased prices of construction materials, labor, etc., and that probably the total cost would run to $20,000,000.

It costs $300,000 a year to operate the present ferry service. The operating cost of a tunnel per annum is estimated at some $100,000 The Governor said preliminary plans for purposes of rough estimates only were drawn up in 1941.

I was very interested in the fact that preliminary considerations led Canal Zone officials to believe that the top of the tunnel at its greatest depth under the Canal would be some 100 feet below the water level and that a tunnel under the Canal at Balboa would probably turn out to be one of the world’s greatest tunnel engineering feats.

The emergency has not ended as of this date. Presumably, we would find it just as difficult now to carry out this commitment as we would have during actual hostilities abroad.

  1. Enrique A. Jiménez.
  2. Paragraph numbered 4 of the general relations agreement of May 18, 1942; for text, see Department of State Executive Agreement Series No. 452.
  3. Brig. Gen. J. C. Mehaffey, Governor of the Panama Canal.