Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/320

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

work requires the larger features to be executed in succession to a considerable extent, or much duplication of plant and the employment of a great force of laborers, practically all of whom must be foreigners, housed, organized and maintained in a practically uninhabited tropical country where many serious difficulties reach a maximum. It is not within the experience of civil engineers to execute by any practicable means that kind of a program on schedule time. The weight of this observation is much increased when it is remembered that the total volume of work may be taken as nearly twice as great in Nicaragua as at Panama, and that large portions between Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean Sea must be executed in a region of continual and enormous rainfall. It would seem more reasonable to the writer to estimate eight years for the completion of the Panama canal and ten years for the completion of the Nicaragua canal.

The prospective industrial and commercial value of the canal also occupied the attention of the commission in a broad and careful study of the elements which enter that part of the problem. It is difficult if not impossible to predict just what the effect of a trans-isthmian canal would be either upon the ocean commerce of the United States, or of other parts of the world, but it seems reasonable to suppose from the result of the commission's examinations that had the canal been in existence in 1899 at least 5,000,000 tons of the actual traffic of that year would have been accommodated by it. The opening of such a waterway, like the opening of all other traffic routes, induces the creation of new traffic to an extent that cannot be estimated, but it would appear to be reasonable to suppose that within ten years from the date of its opening the vessel tonnage using it would not be less than 10,000,000 tons.

The Nicaragua route would favor in distance the traffic between our Atlantic, including Gulf, and Pacific ports. The distances between our Atlantic ports and San Francisco would be about 378 nautical miles less than by Panama. Between New Orleans and San Francisco, this difference in favor of the route by Greytown and Brito would be 580 nautical miles. It must be remembered, however, that the greater time by at least twenty-four hours, required for passage through the Nicaragua canal, practically obliterates this advantage, and in some cases would throw the advantage in favor of the Panama waterway. This last observation would hold with particular force if for any reason a vessel should not continue her passage, or should continue it at a reduced speed during hours of darkness, which could not be escaped on the Nicaragua canal, but might be avoided at Panama. For all traffic between the Atlantic, including gulf ports, and the west coast of South America, the Panama crossing would be the most advantageous. As a matter of fact, while there may be some small advantage in miles