Port of Virginia Reaches Milestone in Project to Widen and Deepen Channel

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The Port of Virginia reached a milestone in its ongoing effort to enhance port access and improve operating efficiency by widening and deepening its access channel. The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Virginia today, March 1, officially removed the one-way restrictions in Thimble Shoal Channel West Reach, meaning the channel can now handle two-way traffic for ultra-large container vessels.

Widening the channel is part of the port’s $1.4 billion strategic infrastructure investment package that focuses on creating efficiency, supporting larger cargo volumes, and increasing the speed of cargo moving through the gateway. According to port officials, the project will reduce the amount of time one of the large vessels spends in port by up to 15 percent, which also reduces emissions.

“Ocean carriers are putting larger vessels into their East Coast port rotations with additional ULCVs on order, and our partners know their vessels will not outgrow our capabilities,” said Stephen Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “In Virginia, there is no concern for channel width, overhead draft restrictions, capacity, or cargo handling infrastructure.”

In parallel to widening the channel, the port is also dredging Thimble Shoal Channel and the Norfolk Harbor to 55 feet deep and the ocean approach to 59 feet deep. Upon completion of the $450 million dredging project in fall 2025, the Port of Virginia promotes that it will have “the deepest, widest channels on the U.S. East Coast.” 

“This is a true advantage for anyone delivering to or from America,” said Edwards. “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.”

Capt. Whiting Chisman, president of the Virginia Pilot Association highlighted that the focus for more than a decade has been on widening the channel to support the larger classes of containerships that are just now appearing on the East Coast.

The dredging work began in December 2019 and is being completed with collaboration and support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state, local, and community elected officials. Port officials report that they are ahead of schedule on the deepening of the channel and the work is proceeding in the harbor.

In addition to four general cargo facilities in the region, the port is also the staging area for the construction of Dominion Energy’s offshore wind farm. The first components for the wind farm began arriving in the fall of 2023 as the project prepared to move into the construction phase.

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