By Hailey Desormeaux
A project to deepen and widen the commercial shipping channels serving Norfolk Harbor can now move forward after getting the necessary approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port of Virginia said Monday.
The Corps submitted its chief of engineers report, which was the final federal review for the Wider, Deeper, Safer project.
The dredging project will take the channels to 55 feet deep and widen them in select areas to allow for two-way traffic of ultra-large containerships.
Currently, the Port of Virginia has 50-foot channels and berths and is the only U.S. East Coast port with congressional authorization for 55-foot depth channels.
The Wider, Deeper, Safer project will be executed in two phases, the preliminary engineering and design ($20 million), which is expected to take 18 to 24 months, and the dredging phase ($330 million), which has a target completion date of 2024.
The Port of Virginia already has a request for proposals out for the engineering and design phase, a port spokesperson said Tuesday.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and both legislative chambers in June agreed to invest $350 million to deepen the harbor.
The Corps’ positive report allows the dredging project to be included in the federal Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill, which is a larger list of projects eligible for federal matching funds. The projects that receive funding in the bill are determined during the federal budget process.
The deepening and widening project will allow for big ships to load to their limit and make way for two-ship traffic, explained Col. Patrick Kinsman, commander of the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A channel that is equipped to handle two-way vessel traffic increases the pace of commerce and makes way for the expeditious movement of Navy vessels in a time of need.
The largest ships in the Atlantic trade already call Virginia, but the added depth will allow for even bigger ships to call the Port of Virginia, the port explained.
Currently, the biggest ships calling the port are 14,414-TEU ships operated by CMA CGM. They sail on the Ocean Alliance’s AWE2 loop between Asia and the East Coast of North America, according to BlueWater Reporting.
The port is called by 30 liner services that also sail to regions outside North America. Twenty-eight of those deploy fully cellular containerships, one deploys con-ro vessels and one deploys roll-on/roll-off vessels, BlueWater Reporting said.