"Today, the work to make the Port of Virginia the deepest on the US east coast gets underway," Virginia Port Authority CEO John Reinhart, addressing the Hampton Roads Navigational Summit, an annual meeting where regional navigational projects are prioritised.
"This project holds long-term benefits for Virginia, for the port, for cargo owners, our customers and the ocean carriers. Safe, two-way movement of ultra-large container vessels, unrestricted by tide, is a significant competitive advantage for our port. This project and all other improvements we are making at the terminals tells the ocean carriers we are ready for your big ships," Mr Reinhart said.
In early October, he signed a contract with New Jersey-based Weeks Marine to begin dredging the western side of Thimble Shoal Channel. The contract for the first phase is US$78 million and the total cost of the project, including the preliminary engineering and design work, is $350 million.
The work includes dredging the shipping channels to 55 feet - with deeper ocean approaches - and widening them to 1,400 feet in specific areas. When dredging is complete in 2024, the commercial channels serving the Norfolk Harbour will be able to simultaneously accommodate two, ultra-large container vessels.
"Modern container terminals served by deep, wide channels and the ability for cargo to reach important markets by rail truck and barge positions Virginia to be the east coast's premier trade gateway, and this will fuel cargo growth, job creation and economic investment across the Commonwealth for decades to come," Mr Reinhart said.
In 2015, the deepening effort got underway when the US Army Corps of Engineers and the port agreed to share the cost of evaluating the benefits of dredging the Norfolk Harbour to a depth beyond 50 feet.
Dredging begins nearly two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule, and more than two months ahead of the aggressive start date of January 2020. The port's preparation, its collaboration with the US Army Corps of Engineers, its understanding of the streamlined permitting process and the support of the elected officials on the state and federal levels were all factors in securing final, early approval.
"The support of the Governor, the Virginia Legislature, the Army Corps' Norfolk District office and the Virginia Maritime Association for this project cannot be overstated," Mr Reinhart said. "This has been a collective effort and we are grateful to all who were behind it. This is what a world-class port looks like."