Work, not talk

Published 9:41 pm Monday, September 12, 2011

In a joint press release last week, both U.S. senators from Virginia passed along what should have been great news for the commonwealth: $27.4 million had been set aside in the Fiscal Year 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill for the expansion of Craney Island, a project that the state and federal government have been working on together.

The Virginia Port Authority has partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to enlarge the spit of land on the James River near the Portsmouth/Suffolk border so that it can continue to accept dredged material from the area’s harbors and so that it can serve as a major new marine terminal.

Both purposes would have long-term positive effects on the economy of Hampton Roads and on that of the commonwealth. Virginia’s ability to compete with the ports in other states along the Eastern Seaboard will be a major factor in determining its economic growth during the next couple of decades. And providing state-of-the art port facilities is a linchpin of the state’s plan to be competitive.

Email newsletter signup

With the completion of the project to widen the Panama Canal for a new generation of wider and heavier cargo ships, Hampton Roads, which has deepwater ports that are easily accessible both by ocean and by rail, is uniquely positioned along the East Coast to become a major destination for shippers looking to move products into and out of the United States. The recently completed Heartland Rail Corridor, which connects Hampton Roads to the Midwest, makes the harbor here an even more attractive shipping destination.

With the huge Centerpoint intermodal facility now under construction off of Holland Road, as well as other warehouse and distribution centers located in other industrial parks at easily accessible points scattered around the city, Suffolk is especially well positioned for the growth that could come to the Ports of Virginia as a result of widening the Panama Canal, and a new marine terminal at Craney Island would be a boon to the city’s growing warehousing and distribution market.

Unfortunately, considering the frustrating lack of cooperation in Congress today, it’s likely that none of this will matter much in the long run. Although the federal money has been set aside in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill for 2012, Congress still has not appropriated any money for the next fiscal year, which starts in 2012, and there’s a good chance that Craney Island’s funding will be held up amidst the political gamesmanship that has become due course in Washington, D.C.

There’s plenty of talk in Washington now about creating jobs. What we’d all like to see back at home is a little action. Officials estimate that the Craney Island project — which Virginia also is funding — would create 1,000 construction jobs and 54,000 post-construction jobs. Releasing this money would be evidence that Congress intends to actually do something about unemployment besides just talk.