The deepening and widening of Norfolk Harbor at the Port of Virginia was for the first time included in a federal budget with $83.7 million that will help ensure the project remains on course for completion in 2024.
The project funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was part of President Joe Biden’s 2022 budget proposal released on Friday. The $350 million project will deepen the port’s channels to 55 feet and widen the channels to allow two-way traffic for ultra-large container ships and would make the Port of Virginia the deepest port on the U.S. East Coast. Initial dredging began in December 2019.
“We are very happy to see that the president’s budget includes a new start designation and funding for the construction of the inner harbor portion of our channel deepening and widening project,” Virginia Port Authority CEO Stephen Edwards told FreightWaves.
Edwards noted that a record-breaking call made at the port on May 20 by the CMA CGM Marco Polo – with a carrying capacity of 16,022 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) – underscored the importance of the project. “It was a historic day as well as a reminder of the shifting dynamics in the supply chain industry as well as the critical role that Virginia plays as a gateway for global trade,” he said.
The port set a new record in April for monthly TEU volume, handling more than 286,000 units.
Virginia’s 13 congressional delegates wrote to the White House in March urging that Biden include the port’s deepening project in his budget.
“Regrettably, the congressionally authorized federal share of this project has yet to be funded,” they stated in their letter. “While the port has been able to use non-federal funds to keep the project on schedule, any further delay in federal funding will delay the project and risk increasing costs.”
They pointed out that the port’s reach, when intermodal rail markets are taken into account, extends throughout the mid-Atlantic and into the Midwest and Ohio Valley, which helps the port maintain a balanced portfolio of container and bulk trade. “U.S. exports comprise more than half of its container movements and serve a robust rail market to and from the American farmers and manufacturers throughout the Midwest and Ohio Valley,” they said.
The lawmakers also made the case that the rapid growth of larger vessels entering maritime trade “makes it essential that this project proceed as quickly as possible,” they said. “The public and private non-federal interests have invested billions of dollars on landside infrastructure and are prepared to provide their cost share to complete this crucial navigation project in a timely manner.”
At $6.8 billion, the Army Corps’ 2022 civil works budget is the highest annual budget ever requested for the program. It includes $1.6 billion in funds – also the highest amount ever requested – to be taken from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be used to maintain depths of port and harbor channels.