Port of Virginia NIT expansion nearing completion

Port of Virginia NIT expansion nearing completion

Once the final eight cranes are installed, each of Norfolk International Terminals

Landside construction on a $375 million project to increase capacity nearly 60 percent in the Port of Virginia’s Norfolk International Terminals (NIT) will be complete in the coming weeks, allowing more cargo owners to use the port while ensuring terminal fluidity with more equipment available to move containers, the port authority said.

The final eight gantry cranes will be placed into service in July, boosting the terminal from 15 container stacks with manual cranes in January 2018 into 30 stacks under the control of semi-automated cranes.

The new cranes are more productive than manually operated cranes because they can be programmed to groom the stacks, according to the port authority. Containers scheduled for immediate pickup are placed on top and in front of stacks to minimize dwell time for truckers. Humans still control the final portion of placement on a truck from a backroom via a monitor. The port’s other container terminal — Virginia International Gateway (VIG) — has utilized semi-automated cranes for more than a decade.

When the eight cranes are commissioned, NIT’s container handling capacity will grow to nearly 2.2 million TEU per year. The eight cranes, the final set in an order of 86 units, arrived in mid-May and have undergone final assembly and testing since, the Virginia Port Authority (VPA) said. VPA placed the $217 million order with Konecranes in November 2016. Each of NIT’s 30 stacks has two cranes, or 60 total, the other 26 were used to create 13 new container stacks in VIG last year.

“The cranes allow us to handle the BCOs’ (beneficial cargo owners’) cargo in a safer, quicker, and more sustainable way while also showing our commitment to bringing on new capacity for our customers,” VPA CEO John Reinhart told JOC.com.

Ship-to-shore cranes the final piece of equipment

Two ship-to-shore (STS) cranes will be necessary to wrap up the $375 million expansion project that broke ground in January 2018. Unlike the eight cranes going into commission in July, which place the containers on trucks, the two STS cranes due to arrive in about three months move containers from the vessels onto land and vice versa.

Reinhart said the cranes are expected to leave China in August and arrive at the port in October or November. Two of the four cranes on the vessel will go to Norfolk, with the other two bound for the Wando Welch Terminal in Charleston, South Carolina.

When complete, NIT will have 16 STS cranes covering six berths, which will allow the terminal to handle vessels with up to 18,000 TEU in capacity.

“They will undergo inspections, and all the testing in China,” Reinhart said. “We expect those to arrive in October, then by December they should be ready to go live. So we can put in ultra-large container vessels with boxes stacked eight or 10 high under the two cranes.”

Dredging under way, but federal funds necessary

Digging began this winter to deepen and widen the Port of Virginia’s Thimble Shoals channel. While Thimble Shoals will be deepened from 50 to 56 feet, the Norfolk Harbor and Newport News channels will be deepened from 50 to 55 feet during low tide. The Commonwealth of Virginia is paying for the current work through funding passed by the state legislature. VPA is lobbying the federal government to include funding for the $350 million project in the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill. The Virginia delegation in Washington is also pushing for the US Army Corps of Engineers to designate the Norfolk Harbor, the innermost portion, a “New Start” project qualifying for funds under the agency’s annual work plan.

The delegation sent a letter to the US Office of Management and Budget in January calling for the New Start designation along with $49.4 million in President Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget and $2.5 million from the Army Corps.

Reinhart isn’t concerned about how the US economic recession might hurt the port’s chances to receive federal funds, instead arguing the state and federal governments would unlikely fund less advanced projects still in their infancy.

The dredging and widening is critical to the expansion projects because it would allow vessels up to 18,000 TEU to call without any tidal restrictions. It would also end the need to shut down all other commercial traffic when large container ships arrive or depart.

Contact Ari Ashe at ari.ashe@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @arijashe.