Big changes for motor carriers at port terminals

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Print this page Jessica Sabbath
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The $42 million North Gate Complex added 26 new truck lanes to NIT.
Photo courtesy Port of Virginia

Trucks visiting Norfolk International Terminals (NIT) can now roll through its new north gate lanes in under two minutes.

“The North Gate complex is really high tech and really well received,” says Marilynn Ryan, president of the Tidewater Motor Truck Association. “It’s been a great asset to both the port and the trucking community.”

Last summer the Port of Virginia opened the 26-lane, $42 million North Gate complex at NIT. The project brought the total number of truck lanes at the port’s largest terminal to 42. “Trucks can process through the gate in two minutes or less, which is a great improvement over the 10 to 12 minutes it takes for human interaction,” says Ryan.

In late December, the Interstate 564 Intermodal Connector opened, providing motor carriers direct access from the highway to the new gate complex. The $169 million, four-lane roadway is expected to remove as many as 700 trucks a day from Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk. The new roads, however, create a longer route for motor carriers who need to move between the port’s terminals, says Ryan.

Another big change for motor carriers is taking place on the terminal. In March, the Port of Virginia launched the initial phase of its Trucker Reservation System to help manage the flow of trucks at the port. The program was launched after two years of discussions with motor carriers. The advantage for motor carriers is that the port can have the specific container the motor carrier needs to pick up ready to be received.

“We wish more motor carriers would take advantage of it,” says Joe Harris, spokesman for the Port of Virginia. “That use is growing on a week-to-week basis, and we’re helping drivers to build muscle memory with it and to understand its benefit to them. We’re seeing increased turn time for those drivers that are making reservations.”

The port received a $1.55 million Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment grant from the Federal Highway Administration to help implement the reservation system. The specialized grant program supports projects that reduce congestion with better use of technology.

Currently reservations are required at the terminal between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Saturday. The hours that require reservations will gradually grow.  The reservation system likely will begin at the Virginia International Gateway terminal this summer. Motor carriers make appointments online at


“As we continue to see larger ships, we have to be able to meter the flow of cargo coming in and out of the gates in order to move that amount of cargo with efficiency,” says Harris. “The reservation system is absolutely key to that.”

Ryan says motor carriers are willing to continue working with the port on the initiative. “It’s really too early to tell how it’s going to work,” says Ryan. “The trucking companies are willing to embrace it, but there are still a lot of questions left and a lot of bugs to work out.”

But despite the improvements at NIT, motor carriers often experience hours of delay at the Virginia International Gateway terminal in Portsmouth. At the March meeting of the Virginia Port Authority Board of Commissioners, truck drivers shared their frustrations with port leaders over delays, frequently caused by cargo-handling equipment malfunctioning. “Right now there are a lot of slowdowns and breakdowns due to the equipment being taken down or out of service,” says Ryan. “They haven’t had the time to take them off line.”

As the new automated stacking cranes come in, the port does plan to refurbish the existing equipment.

Ryan is hopeful that will improve productivity at the terminal. “Working at the Port of Virginia is a real honor,” says Ryan. “It’s got a lot of good people working it, and they are definitely bringing more commerce into the state of Virginia.”

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