The effort to make the Port of Virginia the deepest port on the US East Coast is set to begin in January 2020, following the finalization of a contract with an international dredging firm that will take on the project’s initial phase.
On October 9, 2019, John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, signed a contract with New Jersey-based Weeks Marine to begin the deepening of the western side of the Thimble Shoal Channel.
In late September, the port’s board of commissioners approved the contract with Weeks. The contract for the first phase amounts to USD 78 million and the total cost of the project will be USD 350 million.
The work includes dredging the shipping channels to 55 feet – with deeper ocean approaches – and widening the channel to more than 1,400 feet in specific areas.
Once dredging is completed in 2024, the commercial channels serving the Norfolk Harbor will be able to simultaneously accommodate two, ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs).
“When the work is complete, Virginia will be the only East Coast port with this capability,” Reinhart said.
“The vessel sizes continue to expand, so safe, two-way ULCV traffic is important to the sustainability and efficiency of this port and to the ocean carriers using the channel.”
“This project, combined with the USD 750 million we are investing to increase container capacity by 1 million units per year, sets up Virginia to be the premier gateway for trade on the East Coast,” he pointed out.
In 2015, the deepening effort got underway when the US Army Corps of Engineers and the port signed a feasibility cost share agreement that committed each side to sharing the cost of evaluating the benefits of dredging the Norfolk Harbor to a depth beyond 50 feet.
The Port of Virginia received the final authorization from the US Army Corps of Engineers to move ahead with the Wider, Deeper, Safer project in July 2018, enabling it to be included in the federal Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill.