Egypt ushers in $8 billion Suez Canal expansion

Last Updated Aug 6, 2015 9:27 AM EDT

EGYPT -- Egypt invited presidents and kings to the banks of the Suez Canal on Thursday for the official unveiling of the expansion of the waterway, which it is calling, "Egypt's gift to the world," CBS News' Alex Ortix reports.

The $8 billion expansion to the Suez Canal adds an extra lane to one of the busiest waterways on earth. It also widens and deepens 22 miles of it.

The canal is one of the major arteries of global business. Nearly a tenth of the world's traffic passes through it, and the government says the New Canal will double its capacity, Ortiz reports.

The expansion project was supposed to take three years, but workers labored day and night, and finished in only 12 months.

The speed at which the project was completed was a point of pride for Egyptians, some of whom called it, "the fourth pyramid," Ortiz reports.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised the project would bring much-needed jobs and revenue to an economy battered by years of political unrest.

Previously, ships could only traverse the canal in one direction at a time, and the average trip took 18 hours. Its expansion introduces two way traffic and cuts journey times down by almost half.

This is good news for shipping, where time is money.

When the canal was opened in 1869, it was a revolutionary creation: A shortcut between east and west. Ships traveling between Europe and Asia no longer had to sail all the way around the African continent.

Little wonder, then, that over the years, countries have gone to war for control of the waterway.

In what became known as, "the Suez crisis" in 1956, France, England and Israel all launched invasions in hopes of winning control of the waterway. They were all soon forced to abandon their campaigns, however, due to pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union.

Since then, the Suez Canal has grown into a potent symbol of Egyptian pride and independence, as well as a target for insurgents. In one attack two years ago, masked militants fired on a container ship.

The canal is also a strategic military channel. U.S. naval vessels enjoy priority access to the waterway, which allows for quicker deployment in a volatile region.