Dec. 22–It might be considered an early Christmas present of sorts.
A nearly three-mile-long, four-lane spur linking Interstate 564 and the newly expanded North Gate Complex at Norfolk International Terminals, the port’s biggest container-handling facility, is open for business.
For the time being, the new link will be open only to port traffic, eventually serving Naval Station Norfolk’s Gate 6 and local traffic to Hampton Boulevard after additional work is wrapped up. Full project completion is expected by October , said Dave Forster, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman.
“The Port of Virginia is growing and projects like this are helping us keep pace and provide the necessary access to deliver the goods coming through this port — exports and imports — to manufacturers and consumers throughout our market and build our status as the Mid-Atlantic’s global gateway,” John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, said in a statement.
Among the big benefits the new link is expected to provide: getting more trucks off Hampton Boulevard, eventually up to 700 or so a day.
Access to the North Gate of NIT is now available only through the new I-564 ramp, with no access allowed from or to Hampton Boulevard.
Truckers, however, are still able to access the South Gate of NIT from Hampton Boulevard, which intersects nearby with Terminal Boulevard.
The South Gate offers 16 lanes of access to the terminal.
“It’s going to take time,” said Joe Harris, an authority spokesman. He noted that as truckers adapt to the new configuration, a migration to the North Gate of the terminal is likely.
Until last June, the North Gate consisted of just four lanes — two in and two out. Late that month, though, a new $42 million expansion was opened, offering 26 lanes.
The groundbreaking for the gate expansion and the project linking it with I-564 took place in July 2015.
The I-564 Intermodal Connector Project is a partnership of federal and state agencies and the Navy.
George Berry, a trucker who heads up For Truckers By Truckers, a local advocacy group, said the opening of the new link could create some headaches down the road.
“While it may be a gift for the residents on Hampton Boulevard, it will be coal in the stockings for other travelers going through the Downtown Tunnel and other arteries,” he said.
Truckers who take the new I-564 link to and from the North Gate will be led to use the Downtown Tunnel rather than the Midtown Tunnel, Berry said.
The new route will also drive up fuel costs for truck drivers, who will have to travel a longer distance between NIT and the port’s second-biggest terminal, Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth.
The higher fuel costs ultimately will be passed on to consumers, Berry added.
City code concerning truck traffic on Hampton Boulevard remains unchanged: Trucks with four axles or more are prohibited between Terminal Boulevard and Redgate Avenue between 4 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Norfolk city officials said there have been no discussions about applying new rules or cutting off the road to truck traffic.
The city has asked the port to monitor truck traffic on Hampton Boulevard as the new project unfolds, a spokeswoman said.
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