The Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC), one of Virginia’s 21 planning district commissions tasked with addressing region wide issues, is currently updating its Long Range Transportation Plan with the help of the Berkley Group’s Auxiliary Town Hall program. This Long Range Transportation Plan seeks to identify region wide transportation goals, assets, issues, and solutions for the coastal communities of the Middle Peninsula for the next 20 years.
Comprised of the 6 counties of Essex, Gloucester, King and Queen, King William, Mathews, and Middlesex and the 3 towns of Tappahannock, Urbanna, and West Point, the Middle Peninsula has a natural asset that causes transportation issues that are unique to the region; its 1,200 miles of coastline along its multitude of waterways.
The waterways of the Middle Peninsula are critical to the region’s transportation system as well as its economy and way of life. The historical development of the region was tied to its access to water ways for international navigation and this access to waterways continues to be a vital component of the region’s success. This system of waterways supports the region’s marine industries, which consists of 1,660 jobs and $22.7 million in wages in the region. These waterways also enhance the region’s logistical advantage, providing the region access to two major international ports, the Port of Virginia in Norfolk and the Port of Baltimore. According to the American Association of Port Authorities, in 2017 the Port of Virginia was the seventh busiest port in the country while the Port of Baltimore was the thirteenth busiest.
However, the future use of these waterways as a vital part of the region’s economy, transportation system, and way of life is in jeopardy as the region’s waterfront development is at risk due to sea level rise and an increased frequency and magnitude of storm events. Compounding this issue is the shoaling of navigable channels throughout the Chesapeake Bay, restricting access and limiting water travel.
A study published by the United States Coast Guard in 2018 highlights this issue of shoaling in the region’s navigable creeks that provide access to the Chesapeake Bay. The report found that in the Middle Peninsula region, there are seven tributaries that connect into the major waterways that are shoaled in, putting them in jeopardy of having their Aids to Navigation System (ATONs) signals removed. In addition, two waterways have shoaled in entrances and four waterways have stream ends that are shoaled in. Collectively, these at risk waterways are currently home to 21 working waterfronts infrastructure, representing a potentially critical loss to the region’s vital marine industries.
To address this issue, the MPPDC and the Berkley Group aim to create a robust waterways section in the Long Range Transportation Plan in order to assist the region in identifying and prioritizing at risk waterways and in creating local, regional, and state level solutions.