New Parking to Alleviate Tough Sailor Commutes at Newport News Shipyard After Spate of Suicides

proposed parking structure that the Navy and Newport News Shipbuilding plan
An image of the proposed parking structure that the Navy and Newport News Shipbuilding plan to build and have operational by spring of 2026. (Courtesy: Newport News Shipbuilding)

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- In the wake of a spate of suicides aboard an aircraft carrier in 2022, the Navy and Newport News Shipbuilding announced Monday that they are ready to move forward with building a parking garage, addressing a key quality-of-life concern for sailors at the shipyard.

The new parking garage, which officials told reporters at a press conference would add around 2,000 new parking spots for sailors about half of a mile from the Newport News shipyard, is set to begin construction before the end of the year and be ready for use by the spring of 2026.

"Today's announcement is incredible news, and it is a long time in coming," Jennifer Boykin, the president of the shipyard, told reporters. "Change is rarely immediate, and I remain committed to fighting for what is important to better serve our shipbuilders and our sailor's needs."

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The new parking structure is aimed at alleviating the hours-long commutes that included far-flung parking lots and shuttle buses, which most sailors experienced while stationed on aircraft carriers undergoing years-long overhauls and maintenance periods while at the Newport News shipyard. The complex system of parking lots and travel meant that a sailor's workday could actually start as early as 4 a.m. and not end until well after 6 or 7 p.m.

Although leaders in the Navy knew that parking was a concern for decades, the problem was allowed to fester until 2022 when first reported that the USS George Washington aircraft carrier had suffered more than a half-dozen suicides since November 2019.

    The ship had been undergoing an unusually long midlife refit at the shipyard from 2017 until May 2023.

    Subsequent Navy investigations formally identified a host of quality-of-life issues aboard the ship and at the shipyard that included subpar leadership and a failure to take care of sailors as contributing factors to the suicide cluster and crew stress.

    That investigation, released in May 2023, also found that with three carriers at the shipyard, the Navy needed more than 7,500 parking spaces for its sailors while only around 3,300 were within walking distance of Newport News Shipbuilding.

    After conditions gained national attention, Susan Mainwaring, a spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command, said the Navy took "immediate action to consolidate sailor parking to bring them in closer proximity to the shipyard, minimizing overall transit times," and the service created new shuttle routes as well.

    While the USS George Washington has since departed Newport News, and the garage is not likely to be ready in order to benefit the sailors of the USS John C. Stennis, the carrier currently undergoing work at the shipyard, it will benefit sailors of the ships that come after them.

    The commander in charge of carrier overhauls, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, told reporters Monday that he feels the Navy moved "expeditiously" in getting the plans for the new parking in place.

    "We wanted to make sure that we had the requirement right, that we had the funding set, and we worked with the shipyard to prepare and we worked with the city to make sure that the parking garage would fit," he added.

    Both Moton and other Navy officials also noted that they implemented other lower-cost or less burdensome improvements at the shipyard since the first story about the suicides published more than two years ago.

    The Navy says it is now offering healthy food options within 20 minutes of where sailors live and work -- including a 24-hour micro market -- at the shipyard.

    They expect to open two more such markets "this summer," a Navy spokeswoman told in an email.

    The Navy has also added Wi-Fi access for sailors at the shipyard, and Huntington Hall, a residence building operated by the shipyard, has had renovations to the gym and kitchen.

    Finally, the spokeswoman also noted that Navy Medicine has increased access to pharmacy services, primary and women's medical care, and immunization access at the shipyard as well.

    The parking garage is set to cost $120 million, and once built, it will be run and maintained by Newport News Shipbuilding.

    Virginia state Sen. Mamie Locke and Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones also touted to reporters that the state committed a $40 million treasury loan to support construction of Navy housing downtown, but neither was able to offer specific details about that project.

    Related: 'A 9/11-like Event': Navy Report on Carrier Suicides Cites Missed Warning Signs, Leadership Failures

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