NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- The Norfolk Harbor needs to be deepened, according to a newly-released report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The draft report recommends a $321 million project to deepen the Norfolk Harbor and entrance channels to 55 feet and widen portions of the Thimble Shoal Channel to 1,200 feet.

Susan Conner, Chief of Planning and Policy for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the changing sizes of vessels could outgrow the Norfolk Harbor.

“If you look 10,15,20 years from now, we're expecting larger and larger container ships to be calling on the port,” said Conner. “If we don't deepen the channels, that limits the ability to have large vessels calling here at Norfolk Harbor.”

Port of Virginia spokesperson Joe Harris said the ships are getting so big that when they come in, the harbor has to temporarily close, which reduces efficiency and increases cost.

“Fifty-five feet will give us necessary room to accommodate the largest cargo ships that are sailing the Atlantic Ocean and accommodate them fully loaded,” said Harris. “Right now, they’re coming in with not a lot of wiggle room.”

The report stated that the marine vessel fleet is starting to have larger, deeper-draft vessels, specifically for container ships. As a result, Conner said the Norfolk Harbor must adapt to keep business from going to other ports.

“This is very important,” said Conner. “It would take Norfolk Harbor to the deepest port on the East Coast. It is an economic driver for the region; more goods entering and exiting the port means more jobs, more economic development throughout the region."

The full report can be read here.