Watch Now

Port of Virginia eyes completion of channel deepening this year

Port says it will have deepest channels on East Coast

The CMA CGM Marco Polo arriving at the Port of Virginia in May 2021. (Photo: Virginia Port Authority)

The Port of Virginia said it is on its way to having the deepest channels on the East Coast, enabling the port to accommodate two-way traffic of ultra-large container vessels.

The channels will be 55 feet deep. Work on the biggest section, the Thimble Shoal West Channel, is 99% complete, with full completion anticipated this fall. The other section, the Thimble Shoal East Channel, is 90% complete, but full completion will come this spring. When that happens, the port will work with the Virginia Pilots Association, the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to update the region’s navigation charts, rules and buoys to reflect the improved channel, the Port of Virginia said.

“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 berth,” Stephen A. Edwards, Virginia Port Authority’s CEO and executive director, said in a Tuesday news release. 

“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,” Edwards continued. “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.”

Dredging work began in December 2019, more than two years ahead of schedule. The project entails dredging the channels to 55 feet and widening ocean approaches to as much as 1,400 feet in specific areas.

Funding for the $450 million project was split between the port and the federal government. 

As the project nears completion, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Norfolk District office is also conducting dredge work in the inner harbor at the Newport News Channel. Dredging at the Norfolk Harbor Channel will start by the end of this year.

The Port of Virginia said it processed 288,388 twenty-foot equivalent units in January, a 10.1% increase year over year. Loaded exports accounted for more than one-third of that volume, increasing 38.6% year over year to 96,433 TEUs. 

Subscribe to FreightWaves’ e-newsletters and get the latest insights on freight right in your inbox.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.