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Port of Virginia on track to have deepest channels on East Coast

June 2024

The Port of Virginia is on its way to having the deepest channels on the East Coast by 2026. (Courtesy Port of Virginia)

by Nathaniel Cline, The Virginia Mercury

Even while unexpectedly supporting the Port of Baltimore over the past few months, the Port of Virginia is on its way to having the deepest channels on the East Coast by next year, a distinction that will help it further support the exchange of domestic and international goods.

According to Port of Virginia CEO and Executive Director Stephen Edwards, such investments have helped the company maintain a competitive edge in the market.

Last year, the port processed 3.25 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) — a unit of measure used in the industry to determine cargo capacity — which is slightly less than the 3.7 million it handled in 2022.

Baltimore aid

In May, Edwards provided an overview of the port’s operations at an annual luncheon with business leaders and officials from around the commonwealth. He also detailed how the port handled additional cargo shipments that were diverted from the port in Baltimore after a ship crashed into a bridge above the port’s channel in March.

Officials from the Port of Virginia have handled about 15,000 additional container units and multiple ro-ro shipments, such as vehicles and machinery, to keep supply chains moving. The temporary measure is expected to end this month due to developments of reopening the Port of Baltimore.

“It’s a testament to our team, our operations, and the strategic investments in projects that we are able to meet these moments while still performing at the highest level,” said Edwards, who also commended other ports on the East Coast for rising to the occasion.

“When something works and works well, it is, after all, human nature not to pay too much notice, but the Key Bridge collapse put a spotlight on the vitality of our work and our industry,” Edwards said. “I know we’ve all felt a greater focus on the implications of what we do each and every day.”

Going deeper

Edwards said the port’s implementation of the $1.4 billion Gateway Investment Program is helping transform its operations, highlighted by a dredging project to deepen the channel at Norfolk Harbor. The investment program includes plans to upgrade the Norfolk International Terminal — a semiautomated terminal that allows the transfer of containers — expand the central rail yard, and implement an offshore wind energy hub.

The port has also transitioned to powering all its terminals with electricity from clean resources and expanding its channel to allow for larger cargo ships.

Port officials said Norfolk Harbor is the only channel on the East Coast with Congressional authorization to dredge down to 55 feet.

Once the dredging and widening are complete, port officials said the harbor will offer the “deepest, widest channels on the U.S. East Coast and commercial channels will allow safe, two-way traffic” for larger ships.

House Speaker Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, who presented Edwards with a resolution in May commending the port’s work, said the commonwealth is committed to investing in the cargo terminals in Hampton Roads and Richmond.

“We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make sure that our port is the very best port with the deepest water, but we also have to continue to sustain that investment,” Scott said, adding that these investments create jobs and make the commonwealth more competitive.

As part of the integrated freight strategy between the port and Virginia, work is underway to expand the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, and widen Route 58 in Patrick County and Interstate 64 in New Kent.

The Virginia Mercury is an independent, nonprofit online news organization covering state government and policy. The Mercury is an affiliate of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, supported by grants and donations.