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Federal Funds for Project Making Virginia East Coast Deep Water Port

Port of Virginia dredging
With the final component of federal funding the dredging project is set to make Virginia the deepest East Coast port (file photo)

Published May 23, 2022 2:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Virginia has secured all the necessary federal funding to complete a project which will make it one of the US East Coast’s deepest ports. The new agreements commit the port and the US Army Corps of Engineers to collaborate to deliver the Norfolk Harbor widening and deepening project. Further, it allows the Army Corps to use federal funding to award its first construction contract on the project.

“The importance of this moment in the evolution of The Port of Virginia cannot be overstated,” said Virginia Port Authority CEO Stephen A. Edwards. “This is a modern, twenty-first century port, and when you couple our land-based assets and capabilities with the deepest and widest channels — and safest harbor — on the entire US East Coast, you have a recipe for success here for decades to come.”

Under the project, which began with the first dredging work in December 2019, calls for the commercial shipping channels from the Atlantic Ocean and into the harbor to be deepened to at least 55-feet and made wide enough to safely accommodate two-way traffic of ultra-large container ships.

According to Edwards, these features put the port ahead of its East Coast peers and in a unique position to attract more cargo and increase efficiency at its terminals. The biggest ships afloat will be able safely to sail to-and-from the port fully laden with containers, while Edwards also highlighted that the wider channels and two-way ship traffic mean greater use of the port’s vessel berths.

“This investment comes at a critical time as we look to continue the success of the port and ease the burden on strained supply chains,” US Representative for Virginia Bobby Scott. “I’m pleased to finally see this project come to fruition after working with my colleagues for many years. This will also be an economic boon for Hampton Roads and the rest of Virginia.”

The federal government and the port agreed to a 50-50 cost share of the project at its outset in 2015 when the Army Corps began evaluating the economic value of a deeper and wider Norfolk Harbor and commercial shipping channel. The final installment of the federal investment, $72 million, was included in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. With the new agreements signed today with the US Army Corps of Engineers the federal contribution is in place for the effort to widen and deepen the commercial shipping channels and Norfolk Harbor.

The project remains on schedule with the port and Army Corps highlighting that it is scheduled for competition in 2024. While the focus of the project is to help drive the port’s cargo volumes, the dredge material is also being put to constructive use with the material being placed along the regional beaches for additional coastal protection.

Eastport, Marine, which bills itself as the “Deepest Natural Seaport in the Continental United States,” however challenged the Port of Virginia’s assertion that it would be the deepest port on the East Coast. They reported that the Port of Eastport is “indeed deeper (at Mean Lower Low Water) than the 55 feet depth,” that will be created in this project for the Port of Virginia.

Other ports along the entire US East Coast are also working to respond to the growth in containerships and volumes. Savannah this spring completed a similar dredging project (47 feet) while Charleston is also completing a dredging project to deepen its channel. Jacksonville, Florida also marked the completion of a dredging project, while Baltimore and Boston have also been enhancing their container handling operations.