CEO John Reinhart acknowledges that congestion remains a problem, but says new measures have prevented total gridlock.
The Port of Virginia moved 221,105 TEUs during October, setting an all-time record for container volume in a month, the port authority announced Friday. Box throughput grew by 7 percent, or 14,508 TEUs, compared to the same month the prior year.
October represented the fourth consecutive month of volume in excess of 200,000 standard shipping units. The port has exceeded 200,000 TEUs in six of the last seven months.
Year-to-date container growth is 7.1-percent ahead of 2013, which was a record year with 2.2 million TEUs handled. The Port of Virginia has already handled 1.98 million TEUs this year.
The port’s terminals in Norfolk and Portsmouth have been plagued by congestion for the past year, and one of the main factors is that volumes continue to rapidly increase without any infrastructure expansion. The cargo crunch is compounded by ocean carriers deploying larger vessels that stay at berth longer and drop many more shipping boxes at once, compared to smaller ships that tended to spread out cargo throughout the week. Similar challenges and delays are being experienced at the ports of New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Virginia Port Authority Chief Executive Officer John Reinhart, who has been on the job nine months, has taken a series of steps to improve port productivity and is aggressively working to identify and implement other short- and long-term solutions.
Port trucking companies and drivers complain they can spend several hours waiting to make a double move because of inadequate labor, equipment and capacity to unload and load trailer frames, although fluidity and delays vary by day and time. The port authority and its operating arm, Virginia International Terminals, have bought or leased 54 yard hostlers; reopened the idle Portsmouth Marine Terminal as a relief valve; extended weekend gate hours; installed a more sophisticated terminal-operating system; and knocked 3.5 days off rail-yard dwell times by rebuilding mothballed straddle carriers, adding more labor and pulling equipment from other terminal activities.
Turn times, as measured in-gate-to-out-gate, at the Virginia International Gateway (formerly the APM Terminal) averaged about 78 to 80 minutes during the last three weeks, Reinhart said Tuesday in a phone interview. At Norfolk International Terminal, truckers average 75 minutes to conduct their transactions.
Last year, by comparison, drayage drivers averaged at least 85 to 90 minutes to cycle through a terminal.
“I’m not proud of that yet, but I can tell you if we hadn’t done all those things we had done this year with the record volumes we’re handling, we would be having a real meltdown,” he told American Shipper. “Just in October, without any new gates, with just some of the process changes we’ve done, our truck moves were up by 6,500, or 8.7 percent, year-on-year.”
The port moved 81,375 containers by truck in October.
Truckers note that the averages don’t reflect the length of wait times when traffic is heavy, which some experts say is why shippers and their drayage providers should try to spread out deliveries to less busy periods at the port.
Reinhart said the VPA’s target is to get truckers through the terminals within 60 minutes.
Last month, VPA officials held a summit with area stakeholders to solicit ideas on quick action items that could improve service for motor carriers and overall efficiency.
In October, the port worked 175 vessels, including breakbulk and vehicle transporters.
Most other East Coast ports have yet to report October container volumes.