Port executive predicts 4 to 5 percent growth this year

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Container traffic at the Port of Virginia could grow between 4 and 5 percent this year, Virginia International Terminals President and CEO Joe Dorto said Wednesday.

After facing a tough first half of 2011, port volume was up 12 percent in December compared to the previous year. While Dorto says it takes three months of increased volume to indicate a trend, “I hope it’s a sign we’re going to start to turn things around,” he told a packed luncheon of the Hampton Roads Global Commerce Council at the Town Point Club in Norfolk.

Early estimates indicate that port traffic was up 2 percent in 2011 over 2010, he said.
Dorto says that while the port’s growth in the short term will continue to be affected by a weak economy worldwide, the long term outlook for the port is good.

He said the Virginia Port Authority’s new board of commissioners is serious about improving business incentives at the port. “That new board has a lot of business people on it,” Dorto said.

Last year, Gov. Bob McDonnell surprised the Hampton Roads maritime community when he replaced all but one member of the VPA’s board of directors, citing the port’s failure to bounce back from the recession as quickly as other East Coast ports.

Dorto also said the port’s rail opportunities will improve the port’s competitiveness. The Heartland Corridor, which cut a day off the trip between Norfolk and the Midwest for double-stacked container trains, has been open for more than a year. In addition, in October the port opened a new rail service to Greensboro, N.C., which the port expects to all the Port of Virginia to transport goods to the South and Southeastern United States via rail.

“The growth of the port is going to come from rail,” Dorto said.

Dorto also said the port stands to benefit from the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is expected to be completed in 2015. The canal will allow today’s massive cargo ships, called post-Panamax ships, to travel through the waterway. Dorto said that six shipping lines already have visited the Port of Virginia to inquire about the port’s preparedness to handle these megaships. East Coast ports are expecting to see a bump in container traffic after the expansion.

“We’ve got the water depth, and we’ve got the rail service,” to benefit from the expansion, Dorto said.

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