Vice President Biden speaks at Nauticus

Vice President Joe Biden walking across the stage in Norfolk, Va. (WAVY/Andy Fox)

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY/AP) — Vice President Joe Biden touted the benefits of investing in the nation’s infrastructure in a visit to Norfolk Wednesday, highlighting a recent grant to the Port of Virginia that will increase its capacity and lessen traffic burdens.

Rain may have forced Biden to move his outdoor announcement of the $15 million TIGER Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, but make no mistake — it was nothing but sunny inside Nauticus. Attendees where happy to learn the money is coming to Hampton Roads.

Photos: Joe Biden visits Norfolk

“It’s great to have the Vice President of the United States of America come in here and bring in money with him to build our infrastructure,” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe told an applauding audience.

The money will go towards connecting  Norfolk International Terminals to Interstate 564. The goal is to help move cargo faster and alleviate traffic congestion near the world’s largest naval base, which is next door to NIT. The money will also help keep trucks out of nearby neighborhoods.

The grant will be matched by $16 million from the Virginia Port Authority, which is also using the money to help pay for a new intermodal gate at Norfolk International Terminals.

Once complete, officials say the project will re-route more than 700 trucks off neighboring residential streets and save about $4 million each year on highway maintenance costs. It’s also expected to increase terminal capacity by 1.2 million container units.

“Just think what this 22-lane state of the art waiting area, on and off ramps can do to reduce congestion here,” the vice president said. “It will fundamentally change the way you do business. It is going to increase productivity, reduce transportation costs, and transform commerce in this region.”

Biden spoke with port officials at Norfolk International Terminals about their top priorities before addressing those involved in the maritime industry at Nauticus Maritime Museum in downtown Norfolk.

“What most people don’t realize is that our economic maritime power is just as important to our economic security as our military maritime power is essential to our security. And again, that’s not hyperbole,” Biden said. “It is the single most important part of the economic chain that allows us to prosper. Shipping is the lifeline of our economic being.”

Biden noted that ports help create jobs far beyond the shore because manufacturers need to be able to get their products to other markets. He said the Port of Virginia is directly responsible for creating more than 343,000 jobs in Virginia.

Biden also gave a shout out to union workers, like the International Longshoremen’s Association, and members of the United Steelworkers.

Vice President of Steelworkers Local 8888 Mike Lee got to meet Biden behind closed doors after the speech.

“I absolutely like what he had to say. I liked what he said to continue to bring good jobs, money, and make Virginia strong,” Lee said.

Biden said, “The world is changing. It is changing radically, and the question is going to be — are we going to keep our hands on the steering wheel, and make sure we are in a position to steer this great country to be the leading economy of the 21st century?”

Vice President Biden ended his speech where he started: the two things that must happen here at the Port of Virginia, and at other ports in America.

“Two things to keep that advantage that we will squander if we don’t is, one, [to have] the best trained work forces in the world, and, two, [to have] the best infrastructure in the world, and there’s  no place more important than our ports. So, go get em guys. I’ll keep bringing as much money as I can as long as you keep doing your job,” Vice President Biden said to thunderous applause.

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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