Two ultra-large vessels pass each other in The Port of Virginia’s newly-opened wider ship channel. Handout photo.

Port of Virginia Opens Wider Channel for Two-Way Ultra Large Vessel Traffic

Both of the Chesapeake Bay’s major ports are celebrating milestones this month. The Port of Baltimore just announced 2023 was a record-breaking year for cargo and the Port of Virginia opened an extra-wide shipping channel that allows ever-bigger ships to come and go.

In Maryland, Governor Wes Moore shared that state- and privately-owned terminals handled a record 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo, worth $80 billion, in 2023. In addition to breaking the overall cargo record, the Port of Baltimore bested its previous records for roll on/roll off farm and construction machinery, containers, general cargo, and cars/lights trucks. The Port has led the nation for 13 consecutive years in cars and light trucks. In 2023 it handled 847,158 of the vehicles.

Meanwhile the Port of Virginia is cheering completion of its new, wider shipping channel that allows two-way traffic of ultra-large container vessels. Because two of these megaships can now pass each other going opposite directions, rather than one waiting for the other to clear the area, each vessel will be able to waste 15 percent less time on berth.

Widening the channel is one piece of the Port’s $1.4 billion of improvements. The goal is to give the Port of Virginia the deepest, widest channels on the U.S. East Coast. While the Port has been widening the channel, it has also been dredging it. The channel and Norfolk Harbor are being dredged to 55 feet deep and the ocean approach to 59 feet deep. The $450 million in dredging is expected to finish in fall 2025.

“This is a true advantage for anyone delivering to or from America,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO
and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “Our wider channel sets The Port of Virginia
apart by allowing for consistent vessel flow, increasing berth and container yard efficiencies, and
further improving harbor safety.”

With all these improvements the Port seeks to create efficiency, support larger cargo volumes and speed up the cargo moving through the gateway.

The Virginia Pilot Association calls the widening and dredging project “a momentous achievement.” Pilot Association President Capt. Whiting Chisman says, “The focus of the project more than a decade ago was on creating a channel wide enough and deep enough to safely accommodate a class of container vessels that were not expected to call the U.S. East Coast for years to come.”

Now, they can.