Port of Virginia, major shipping hub for US commerce, plans big expansion

The Port of Virginia is one of the most significant ports in the United States.  It facilitates $242 million worth of commerce a day, and a full 9 percent — or 343,000 — of Virginia’s jobs are port-related.

But there’s a problem. It’s not big enough. Not when cargo ships have gotten bigger, which threatens both business and safety. Experts say deepening and widening of the port at its channel is crucial.

Rick Wester, captain of the Port of Virginia, notes the channel isn’t wide enough with ships double or triple the size they were a decade ago. “About three of four times a week, whenever [the biggest ships] enter or leave port, I have to impose one-way traffic because it’s just too narrow for them to meet any other ships,” he said.

Furthermore, the channel is only 50 feet deep, which means many of the larger ships would run aground if fully loaded. Wester explains, “These ships draw 55 feet [so] we don’t allow them to come into port... they can only partially load both coming in and leaving—they’ve not using their capacity.”

Over 114,000 U.S. businesses rely on goods from the Port of Virginia, but the channel is limiting its ability to expand. Thus there’s a plan to dredge and widen the waterway — it’s even caught the attention of President Trump, who stated the port “could be one of the best in the world if they invested not that much money, relatively speaking.”

How much is that? Around a billion dollars. Virginia has already secured $695 million in private and state investment, and the state is asking for $300 million more from the federal government.

Cathie Vick, chief public affairs officer for the Virginia Port Authority, believes they’ve got plenty of room for growth. There are already approximately two million containers coming through every year, and they hope to add a million more. As Vick puts it, “With almost 8 percent growth last year we've got a plan for the future [and] we're on our way to being the second biggest port on the East Coast.”

Vick also notes that the extra capacity created by a reconstructed channel would allow for a new terminal — which could be built with the dredge material from the widened channel. In general, she believes more money for the Port of Virginia would be a win-win. It would create more than 54,000 jobs in Virginia and elsewhere, and, once there’s greater capacity to trade, help reduce prices for consumers across America.

To Vick, then, federal funding for the expansion is an idea well worth floating.

Fox News' Steve Kurtz contributed to this report.