- The Port of Virginia unveiled a new plan to deepen its main channels to 55 feet, and widen them to 1,200 feet, at the port's annual navigational summit, The Virginian Pilot reported last week.
- The project, backed by the Army Corps of Engineers, would dredge two more channels — the Thimble Shoal Channel and the Atlantic Ocean Channel — even deeper to 56 feet and 59 feet, respectively, and deepen portions of the Elizabeth River.
- Supporters seek the project's final recommendation to Congress by the end of 2018, in order to secure federal funding. A further reauthorization would then be required, to be included in future Water Resources Development Act legislation.
Ports are growing in direct relation to the rising capacity of the ships traveling across the Panama Canal.
The Port of Virginia and the Army Corps of Engineers project to deepen the port's waters is not a vanity project, but rather a move to ensure the U.S. remains competitive. The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest in the nation partly because it has for years been able to accommodate ever-growing vessel sizes. Now the Panama Canal is wider, the same big ships that call on Los Angeles can arrive at ports on the U.S. East Coast.
Ports so far are keeping up with the growing size of vessels, but many are beginning to express concern over their potential future growth as they anticipate the even-larger ships to come. The risk of establishing a depth cut-off or width limit, they argue, could cause excessive damage to the local and greater economy, as well as to supply chains in general.
However, dredging is not cheap, and ports must continually battle for funding from a cash-strapped Congress. The Army Corps of Engineers' backing of the project is promising, but the Port of Virginia will have to make a case to Congress as to why it — and not New York, Savannah or Charleston — should be the deepest port in the nation.