Creative Thinking on Hampton Roads Transportation

It’s amazing what happens when you deprive a region like Hampton Roads of the easy solution — raising taxes — for reducing transportation congestion. People come up with some pretty creative ideas. Not all of them will prove viable, but some of them will. And none of them would have surfaced if the General Assembly and local politicos had been allowed to continue unchallenged their tax-and-spendthrift ways.

The latest case in point: New Kent County, which lies between Richmond and Hampton Roads, is studying the feasibility of building a cargo-transfer facility to take trucks off Interstate 64 and spur business development, reports the Daily Press.

The idea under study is to ferry cargo containers from the ports in Norfolk and Portsmouth through the Chesapeake Bay, under the Coleman Bridge and then up the Pamunkey River to the proposed port property. The enterprise would take trucks off the most congested and costly-to-expand stretches of Interstate 64 in Hampton Roads.

The privately owned site, called Parham Landing, is a largely vacant parcel on the south bank of the Pamunkey, about four miles from Interstate 64. The cost of the transfer facility is estimated to be $36 million to $53 million. It’s not clear at this stage whether private investors or a public entity would pay to build it. But one thing for sure would undermine the project: Opening up the spigots of taxpayer funding for Business As Usual transportation remedies.

Remember, traffic congestion creates business opportunities. The lure of profit calls forth creative ideas.

(Map credit: Jon Baliles. Blue marker shows location of Parham Landing. Click on image for larger, more legible version.)

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    “Remember, traffic congestion creates business opportunities. The lure of profit calls forth creative ideas.”

    Right, congestion is our friend.

    But, notice in this example that it results in opportunity SOMEWHERE ELSE.


  2. The Logician Avatar
    The Logician

    RH – Exactly!

    Hampton Roads needs to recognize that by failing to fix traffic concerns here, business will be lost to elsewhere.

    Whether it’s shipping/trucking bypassing the region to points up-river (I don’t see how the Hopewell/PG regions wouldn’t also benefit from similar plans), or vacationers who head to the Carolinas rather than spend a Saturday afternoon stuck on 64 – it all means less revenue and jobs for the region. Fewer cars and trucks at local gas pumps, fewer mouths in local restaurants, fewer heads on local hotel pillows.

    But good for New Kent for being proactive. I look forward to seeing more trucks at exit 220!

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I suspect the price of fuel has more to do with this becoming economically attractive than the availablity of tax funds to widen I-64. And I suspect that all the planned barges filled to capacity will make only a dent — notable, perhaps, but only dent — in the daily truck count over the next 20 years. It will sop up some of the growth.

    Likewise the price of fuel will have more impact on your beloved Human Settlement Patterns than all the zoning ordinances or top down Soviet style economic planning you can imagine.

    So yes the barge port is a good thing but it doesn’t prove the point you claim. Widening I-64 to three lanes between Jefferson Avenue and I-295 is still a vital necessity. I was coming back from Newport News to Richmond the other day and the almost daily eastbound backup at Ft. Eustis stretched for miles — almost always a result simply of too many cars for a two lane road.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I dunno… the freight is not destined for New Kent and that means another unload/load and that costs time and money…

    The article I read said that companies like WalMart would have to locate a distribution center there to take advantage of it…

    translation: WalMart is not going to have freight come from HR/TW to New Kent and then to wherever their distribution warehouse is if they have have it direct shopped from the port to their warehouse…

    I end up with the same questions about the intermodal facility near Roanoke…

    why would any company have a shipment go from the port to an intermediate intermodal transfer point rather than direct ship from the port?

    I’m sure my ignorance about shipping is involved in my lack of understanding…

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …”Hampton Roads needs to recognize that by failing to fix traffic concerns here, business will be lost to elsewhere.”

    isn’t this the same words.. repeated for each town/city that wants more road?

    Are there places that don’t have the problems that HR/TW has that would out-compete HR/TW on reduced traffic congestion?

    HAH… !!!! when pigs fly!!!

    I agree about the traffic… but where would the money come from?

    If it doesn’t come from the folks who use these roads – tolls/taxes, I think the chance that the “State” will fund it is a pipe dream.

    If reducing traffic congestion is important to HR/TW then why would they wait for someone else to fix it?

    The citizens of HR/TW apparently do not agree with the business community as to what the priorities should be apparently and the citizens take a dim view of taxing them to build what business wants while ignoring what the citizens want.

    citizens want congestion relief not economic development for the port owners…

    until the citizens and the economic development interests agree.. I don’t think solutions are near at hand…

  6. J. Tyler Ballance Avatar
    J. Tyler Ballance

    I support the gas tax increase.

    I support the increase in gas guzzler fees.

    I support new bond packages to fund transportation infrastructure.

    The Barge terminal is a great idea that has proved highly economical in other parts of the world and it used to be a common practice here in the USA.

    One place that barges have long been used to keep trucks off of major part of our highways is the Port of Tulsa. Tulsa is the largest inland port in America and every barge takes hundreds of truck-loads along the greatest part of the journey into the Midwest.

    We should have barge terminals in DC, Maryland and along all of Virginia’s navigable rivers. Ocean traffic could transfer large portions of their containers and use barge shipment for the first segment of the journey, or in some cases the entire journey.

    the one part I am unsure of is if the East Coast Ports and their shipping clients support barges as part of their logistics chain? Will they expect the Port of Virginia to subsidize the barge network? What is the break-even point for a barge operator and is their any incentive to operate barges given fuel costs?

    I suspect that given that each barge get 300-600 trucks off the road, that there should be some way for us to incorporate what should be highly economical portion of the logistics chain.

    I would also like to see more high speed commuter traffic across the Bay, the James and other rivers, but for these to be viable, reliable and inexpensive commuting options must be developed around our cities.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    I suspect what will happen is they will drop the containers over the side of the ship onto the barges, Run the barges up stream and unload the container onto the running gear.

    As Larry points out, it is two unloading cycles. But they may be able to unload from both sides of the ship at once: to the terminal on the land side and onto the barges on the offside.

    Or, just unload onto the barges out in the bay, and avoid the terminal cost entirely.

    “According to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Institute for Water Resources (IWR) white paper, the numbers of containers needing to be moved into, out of, and within the United States is steadily and rapidly increasing, and container-on-barge transport could fill a niche by transporting containers that are not time-sensitive or exceed highway weight limits or are empty.”

    This makes it sound as if container on barge traffic is not yet much used, so yo may need different kinds of barges or modified barges for this service.

    “There is currently a single, unsubsidized, operator specializing in the transport of container traffic along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast. Osprey Lines, based in Houston, Texas, utilizes ocean-going barges along the Gulf Coast and traditional barge runs along connected intracoastal waterways.”

    “This Houston-New Orleans-Houston round-trip route runs approximately once per week depending upon the volume and ship schedules that drive the traffic. For the year ending December 31, 2002, it is estimated that 50,000 containers have been transported between Houston and New Orleans via barge.”

    ” a single barge (depending on size and weight of cargo) can move up to 300 containers per barge and several barges can move in a single run.”

    “In terms of fuel usage per ton-mile, barge transport is the most efficient and cost effective means of moving container traffic. It costs approximately 35 times as much to send freight by truck than by barge.”

    So the queston boils down to the time value of your cargo. Can you afford to have it sit around for a few days when it might have gone by truck, been delivered and maybe sold?

    I rode the high speed catamarn Ferry to Martha’s Vineyard last fall in prety rough weather. It was fast smooth and comfortable.

  8. Michael Ryan Avatar
    Michael Ryan

    What utter idiocy. Just build a decent set of parallel rail lines.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Container ports have huge, expensive and very specific crane infrastructure to pick-up containers and move them to shore.

    In order to move from ship to barge – they’d have to be different critters I would think…though perhaps the Va port cranes go “both ways” … heh heh

    ..and again specialized cranes to unload barges in New Kent…

    I’m not opposed to the concept as a private business endeavor but I am opposed to the government using public monies to tilt the scales to an outcome that business alone would not have pursued.

    The purpose of business is to deal with risk.

    The purpose of government is to stand back and let them.

    What is the legitimate role of government in supporting rail, road, barge, supply chains?

    Does Virginia have expertise in designing and investing in multi-modal supply chains?

    should we be surprised when the business that depend on road, rail or barge tell Virginia that it is “imperative” that Virginia “do something” about their mode?

    … and the “something” is to provide tax dollars …

    why should Va do this?

    why not let business figure out how they need the supply chain to work and then assume the risk of making those decisions?

    A “business-friendly” environment in my mind..means removal of the GOVERNMENT obstacles to business activity not removal of fiscal obstacles….

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    A study of a similar plan for several ports associated with pittsburgh claimed the cranes etc would be a million to two million per port.

    The real issue is land for staging the trucks.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    To get to this site they’d have to travel over 2(?) bridge tunnels and under 2 drawbridges. It seems like a better location would be upriver on the James. I don’t think this location is appropriate if it will significantly increase the drawbridge openings at the Coleman and Eltham bridges

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Land is cheap in New Kent compared to HR.. I bet…

    in fact .. I’ll bet the cost of the land is nowhere near the cost of the infrastructure…

    and if the enterprise goes belly up, it’ll be a lot easier to re-sell the land than those cranes.

    but the point is – to let folks who are experts in that business make decisions that involve risk – rather than the State of Virginia.

    Virginia can help streamline the process and other obstacle-removing help but when it comes down to betting whether or not a facility like New Kent is “feasible”,let the folks whose business it is to know that -make those decisions.

    I also question what business the state has getting involved in favoring one transport mode over another.

    Should you help rail more than barge or barge more than roads or just subsidize all 3 equally?

    my view – don’t spend a penny on any of it… let business do what business does.

    When the State builds road infrastructure to “help” the ports – are they actually hurting rail or barges and the business innovation that comes from competition?

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    “my view – don’t spend a penny on any of it… let business do what business does.”

    So, no incentives for solar cells, wind turbines, smart meters or other energy savers either, hey?


  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    if there is an unarguable benefit as opposed to assertions and claims especially those that are convoluted and speculative in nature.

    If a smart meter results in less electrical consumption – enough to pay for the meter and then some – why not?

    solar cells/wind turbines – no incentives.

    coal? take away the pollution subsidy and let them compete head to head with clean power.

    or… charge coal for the damage it does and use that money to subsidize clean power…

    here’s something for you to chew on:

    “The U.S. today wrings twice as much work from each barrel of oil as it did in 1975”

    now tell me again that efficiency does not affect the ROI equation.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    “less electrical consumption – enough to pay for the meter “

    I don’t think you pay for the meter by using less electricity. You pay for the meter by running electricity through your computer while writing the next great american novel.

    You pay for the meter by turning walnut burls into highly figured bowls.

    I woud put the assertion that you can reduce the construction of power plants enough to lower the rates for all (sufficient to pay for the meters and all the associated labor and inconvenience) in the category of assertions that are convoluted in nature and fundamentally unproveable.

    “I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.”

    Adam Smith


  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What I think I’m hearing is that your position is that only increased consumption can lead to increased productivity and that efficiency/conservation adversely detracts from productivity.

    let’s get your basic position understood before we talk about smart meters, efficiency and conservation.

  17. Anonymous Avatar


    the MPO plan is all about highways for business and the state-owned port, not traffic congestion relief.

    We Tidewater/HR folks need congestion relief, yet the bsiness lobby is targeting the locals to pay billions upon billions for 6 major projects that do not really reduce traffic conestion for those of us targeted to pay for the 6 MPO projects.

    -Reid Greenmun
    VBTA Transportation Chair

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Reid – I see where you’ve got a new Chair and an ongoing recertification of the MPO.

    Would you care to give a report?

    I read the powerpoint from FHWA and I can see now what all the uproar was about…. and why folks in HR/TW were not going to have anything to do with further empowering the powers that be.

    I for one would like to hear more about the situation.. either here or in another forum …

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    “What I think I’m hearing is …”

    You don’t listen very well.

    Self interest doesn’t ONLY mean more production and more profit. It also means conservation——-
    when it pays.

    If it doesn’t pay, then it is a waste, and waste is not conservation.


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