Posted on March 6, 2023
The Port of Virginia® is progressing toward becoming the only US East Coast port with 55-foot-deep channels that are also wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic of ultra-large container vessels.
“It’s an important distinction to have because this sets The Port of Virginia apart from our East Coast peers in a way that cannot be matched,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “In less than a year, we’ll be able to handle two-way traffic of the biggest ships afloat. Having the wide channel allows for consistent vessel flow, it will increase our efficiency and further reduce any downtime at our berths.
“Cargo owners, ocean carriers and logistics providers are closely following our progress. Many of the ocean carriers that call Virginia have new, larger vessels that are coming into service within the next year. We are telling them that they can bring those vessels to Virginia without concern for channel width or overhead draft restrictions. We don’t have any bridges in the Norfolk Harbor.”
The biggest section of the 55-foot project is the Thimble Shoal West Channel and the deepening work there is 99 percent finished with full completion this fall; the Thimble Shoal East Channel is 90 percent complete with full completion coming this spring. When the work on Thimble Shoal East is complete, the first section of the two-way channel will be ready for use.
At that time, the port will work with the Virginia Pilots Association, the US Coast Guard and NOAA to update the region’s navigation charts, rules and buoys to reflect the improved channel.
Edwards said this will provide “the first real navigation benefits” to ocean carriers because there will be an area of the channel open to two-way vessel traffic. The project’s companion widening of Thimble Shoal West is set to begin in this spring with completion in the early fall. When this work is complete, the port will be finished with its share of the deepening and widening project Edwards said.
“In parallel to our effort, our partners in this project, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Norfolk District office, are making progress on the inner harbor parts of this project,” Edwards said. “The contract for work on the inner harbor has been signed and there is dredge work underway in the Newport News Channel and work on the Norfolk Harbor Channel is scheduled to start by year’s end.
“The Norfolk District has been great partner in this effort and that team is working with a sense of urgency to maintain the momentum that we have going. They have been integral to the success of this project and the end is in sight as a result of our partnership.”
The project’s dredge work began in December 2019, nearly two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule. The port’s preparation for the project, its collaboration with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the support of elected officials and the state’s willingness to fully-fund the project ahead of the federal investment were factors behind the early start of construction and ongoing progress, Edwards said.
The work includes dredging the shipping channels to 55 feet – with deeper ocean approaches – and widening them up to 1,400 feet in specific areas. When dredging is complete in 2024, the commercial channels serving the Norfolk Harbor will be able to safely accommodate passage of two, ultra-large container vessels.
The federal government and the port agreed to a 50-50 cost share of the project at its outset in 2015 when the US Army Corps of Engineers began evaluating the economic value of a deeper and wider Norfolk Harbor and commercial shipping channel. The cost of the project is $450 million.