Editorial: Port expansion critical to regional, state economies

AS MUCH AS economic developers here and in Richmond discuss the need to diversity the economy to promote stability and long-term growth, Hampton Roads continues to rely heavily on three areas of commerce for much of its prosperity: tourism, defense and the Port of Virginia.

With each, standing still means falling behind. That’s why Virginia Beach is perpetually discussing new projects and initiatives to draw visitors to the resort city. It’s why officials representing Hampton Roads speak often about the importance of protecting the region’s military installations from closure.

And it’s why investment in the expansion of the port is essential to the future health of the regional economy and that of the commonwealth.

The Port of Virginia is already a tremendous asset. The natural deep-water channel that exists here affords the region a unique advantage that other port communities cannot match. And, to their credit, improving the facilities has long been an emphasis of officials here and in Richmond.

That means the port is pressing ahead with dredging to accommodate larger ships carrying more tonnage. Virginia has federal approval to deepen the channel to 55 feet, the only East Coast port that to have authorization.

And it is in the middle of a facility expansions that will cost about $700 million total when finished and which will dramatically bolster the port’s ability to stand out in a competitive global marketplace.

Officials recently celebrated the completion of improvements at the Virginia International Gateway facility located along the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, lengthening one of the terminals to accommodate the larger ships that can move through the expanded Panama Canal.

It means the VIG facility can utilize cranes installed to handle those post-Panamax ships. And improvements to the storage set-up and the management of getting cargo to road, rail or further upriver, all in an effort to get cargo off the ships and to market as fast as possible.

According to a recent Pilot article, everything isn’t smiles and sunshine just yet. Truck drivers who frequent the port say a new reservation system doesn’t work as intended and has led to lengthy wait times for some. It’s an area for study and improvement.

But the port is handling record volumes and continues to be an attractive entry for international shipping. That means more jobs, more business and more money for Hampton Roads and for Virginia.

The commonwealth can ill afford to concede its competitive edge, so it is crucial that all who serve in the General Assembly, be they from here or elsewhere, recognize the value of further investment when needed.

The Old Dominion has a tremendous asset in the Port of Virginia, and it must make sure that is preserved and protected.