American ShipperIntermodal

VPA targets free time, empties to mitigate congestion

The Port of Virginia continues to take incremental steps to bring its capacity crunch under control.

   With a new bout of congestion spreading beyond the Virginia International Gateway, the Port of Virginia on Friday announced its seventh round of measures in the past two weeks aimed at containing the problem. 
   The Virginia Port Authority for the past year has been trying to address structural issues that prevented facilities from effectively processing higher cargo volumes. After two snow storms closed the port last month, terminals were overwhelmed by the backlog of cargo delivered by ocean carriers. Drayage trucks have been lined up on the highway waiting several hours to get into VIG for cargo transfers.
   Effective Monday, the port will temporarily reduce the window for delivery of exports at Norfolk International Terminal and Portsmouth Marine Terminal to seven days from nine days. Two weeks ago, port officials dropped the export free time at VIG from 10 days to nine days and then reduced it a further two days on March 18.
   The port also said it will no longer accept empty containers arriving at VIG by rail. The measure, consistent with one already in place at NIT, is temporary and aimed at reducing an estimated 22,000 empties port-wide.
   Carriers as of Monday have five days of free time at Portsmouth Marine Terminal, three days more than the two days of free time granted March 19. The free time arrangement is with carriers and the port authority is reminding shippers they have to work out any reciprocal arrangements for free time with their ocean transport providers.
   Virginia International Terminals, the port’s operating arm, also plans to move three rubber-tired gantry cranes to Portsmouth Marine Terminal from NIT in the middle of next week. PMT was pressed into service last fall as an overflow facility for container operations, but is itself beginning to face capacity constraints. The new equipment will bolster lift capacity at the Portsmouth facility and increase throughput, the port authority said.
   Other steps taken in the past two weeks include:

  • Hiring two barge services to reposition containers from VIG to Portsmouth Marine Terminal, as well as between VIG and NIT to make intermodal connections;
  • Temporarily extending gate hours and weekend gates;
  • Shifting some Panamax-size vessels to Portsmouth Marine Terminal to free up berths and yard space at the main container facilities;
  • Grounding any empty containers on wheels to free up chassis; grounding select containers outside the stacks worked by cranes;
  • Grounding select containers at VIG away from stacks culled by cranes to reduce density;
  • Building a separate lay-down area for rail containers at VIG to separate them from truck moves and improve crane efficiency;
  • Banning empty containers at VIG and NIT. Empties are to be delivered to a special empty yard at Pinners Point, which now is storing 12,500 boxes.