Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay-area U.S. representatives and senators are highlighting $83.7 million for the Norfolk Harbor widening and deepening project in President Biden’s recently unveiled $6 trillion budget proposal. The budget provision is a response to a letter Virginia’s congressional and senate delegation sent to Biden in March requesting the funds.
“The prioritization of the Norfolk Harbor Widening and Deepening project is of profound importance to the economic prosperity of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Congressman Rob Wittman (R-Virginia-01) said in a press release. He said, “Although President Biden’s budget has many issues, the inclusion of this project is a wise decision that will hopefully enjoy broad, bipartisan support. I will remain a steadfast advocate for this project’s funding as Congress move to appropriate final allocations.”
The project will widen and deepen three channels to up to 59 feet deep and 1,400 feet wide. That will allow two ultra-large container vessels to simultaneously use Norfolk Harbor’s commercial channels, according to a 2020 Port of Virginia update.
“Safe, two-way movement of ultra-large container vessels, unrestricted by tide, is a significant competitive advantage for Virginia,” Virginia Port Authority CEO John Reinhart said in the update.
Including design and construction, the project was forecast to cost $350 million and was scheduled for completion in 2024, according to a 2018 press release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 2018, President Donald Trump signed America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, providing federal approval for the project. In late 2019, the work began on the first $78 million dollar phase, but without federal funds, according to The Daily Press Editorial Board.
In 2020, Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and the rest of Virginia’s congressional delegation called for $52 million for the project in Trump’s 2021 budget. They also requested a New Start designation — a formal step required for funding projects that weren’t funded by Congress in the previous year. They said the funds were required to fund the next segment of the project and keep it on schedule.
Still, the project is currently funded by state and local resources, according to a February 2021 Warner press release.
In January 2021, Virginia’s congressional delegation wrote a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Russell Vought and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Rickey James. They said that the first segment of the project was 30 percent complete, but to stay on schedule the project needed $78.3 million in federal funds, fully funding the project by matching local and state funds.
In February, Warner highlighted the need for funding in a Senate Budget Committee hearing, blaming the Trump administration for not funding the project.
“We’ve seen a project…the Norfolk Harbor…clearly been qualified as the top project to get funded under any kind of objective analysis. But at the eleventh and a half hour, that objective analysis was thrown out the door by the previous administration’s OMB, and a political process took over,” Warner said according to a press release.
In March, the congressional delegation sent a letter to Biden requesting $83.7 million and the New Start designation.
“Regrettably, the congressionally authorized Federal share of this project has yet to be funded. While the Port has been able to use non-Federal funds to keep the project on schedule, any further delay in Federal funding will delay the project and risk increasing project costs,” the delegation wrote. “In order to maintain the schedule, the project requires a New Start designation and $83.7 million in Federal construction funding in FY22 to fully fund the Inner Harbor contract and match the non-Federal cost share already obligated on the Thimble Shoal West contract.”
After Biden unveiled his budget proposal at the end of May, the congressional delegation applauded the funding designated for the Norfolk Harbor project.
“This is welcome news for the Commonwealth,” Warner said in a press release. “By giving the green light on this critical designation, we can unlock much-needed federal funds to support this critical commercial and economic channel in Hampton Roads.”
Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-Virginia-02) said in her own release, “This project will have a significant impact on national maritime trade and on our local economy. The Port of Virginia is already a powerful economic engine for the region, supporting more than 400,000 jobs and the new project will ensure the safe and timely passage of larger commercial and military vessels through Norfolk Harbor.”
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