Is Now the Right Time to Expand the Port of Virginia's Inland Presence?

Jan 26, 2017

The Norfolk International Terminal, pictured here, was one of the Port of Virginia's facilities that helped move more than 2.5 million units last year.
Credit The Port of Virginia

Virginia’s port is coming out of its most successful year on record, and at least one state lawmaker believes that’s reason enough to consider expanding the port’s inland facilities.

2016 was a good year for the Port of Virginia. It handled more than two and a half million units of cargo and saw jumps in both import and export volumes from the year before.

“Part of it is the ships are getting larger, so the capacity comes a little faster.”

John Reinhart is the port’s CEO.

“The second piece is we’ve been working very hard on our inter-modal program with our rail, and we’ve continued to see our rail grow at double digits so we are making penetrations into mid-Atlantic markets and Midwest markets.”

With numbers like that, people take notice, including state Senator John Edwards. Edwards, a Democrat from Roanoke, recently proposed legislation that would fund a study to determine whether all that growth means now is the time for the port to expand. One option would be creating a new inland port in the Roanoke or New River Valleys.

“And the study would be where can we put this inland port and what kind of economic development would be generated.”

But, Edwards isn’t the first person to suggest the port increase its inland presence. A number of possibilities have been investigated over the years. Here’s Reinhart again:

“We looked at the Danville area this past year to see if we could make an economic argument or business case for a facility and we couldn’t. It was looked at before when we looked at Richmond and we decided to expand a 40 year commitment to Richmond’s marine terminal to give us another inland facility; so we just did that last year.”

Reinhart says inland ports that make sense have easy access to transportation, plus there must be a benefit to local communities and businesses.

Edwards believes Roanoke has all of the above going for it.

“In the Roanoke region we have of course the railroads and we are bringing Amtrak here. We also have interstate systems; 81 and of course 460. And if we can bring an inland port that would mean the rails could bring overseas traffic inland and then go from there to help generate more economic activity.”

Edwards says that his legislation is meant only to get the ball rolling, claiming that an inland port could be the economic boost that Southwest Virginia needs.