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VDOT Causes 25K Birds to Lose Nesting Site

Monday, January 13, 2020

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Last month, crews from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) completed pavement work at the nearly $4 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel project, resulting in the loss of a 40-year-old nesting site for roughly 25,000 seabirds.

Although efforts to rehome the birds have declined since 2017—when the Trump administration revised the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, lessening consequences for bird deaths during construction—some researchers believe that a portion of the bird population might return to the nesting site, while others could migrate elsewhere.

Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Project

In February 2019, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that Hampton Roads Connector Partners as the consortium to win the contract for the $3.56 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. The consortium was led by the U.S. arm of Spanish construction firm Dragados, with HDR and Mott MacDonald serving as lead designers, and Flatiron Construction, Vinci Construction and Dodin Campenon Bernard.

The following month, the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, working in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Transportation, announced the approval of funding.

“This project supports and expands critical transportation infrastructure, creating opportunity for families, military personnel and businesses in the Hampton Roads region,” said Northam at the time.

Located along Interstate 64 and running in parts of Hampton and Norfolk, Virginia, the already-in-place 3.5-mile structure is composed of a couple of two-lane immersed-tube tunnels—the westbound lanes opening in 1957, the eastbound lanes opening in 1976—with trestle bridges running to the shore. According to the VDOT, these tunnels are roughly 7,500 feet long, and traffic on all four lanes can exceed 100,000 vehicles per day during the worst of summer traffic.

The artificial islands were built to provide a transition area from the bridge to the tunnel; at the time the facility was built, the HRBT was the world’s longest immersed-tube tunnel, and was also the first of its kind to be built between two artificial islands, which were made by Merritt-Chapman & Scott.

In April, a groundbreaking ceremony for the project took place. Construction for the project was slated for completion by November 2025. Tolls will be charged on the new tunnels, though the old ones will remain free to use.

What’s Happening Now

While the Associated Press reports that officials are unsure how the bird population will be affected until their return in the spring, it has been confirmed that a new island for the birds will not be constructed anytime soon.

The news comes in a statement issued by VDOT revealing that the department had worked alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and other agencies for over two years in order to assess potential conservation measures.

“As the agencies agreed an interstate facility is not an appropriate location for such a population, the focus of the effort was to identify other nearby locations offering suitable habitat,” reads the statement.

“VDOT engaged researchers at Virginia Tech to conduct an assessment that fully evaluated and vetted onsite and offset options, but all were deemed either unsuitable for the birds, unlikely to be permissible by regulatory agencies, protected as a historic property, or they posed a collision risk with local aircraft in conflict with Navy and FAA guidance.”

However, Terri Cuthriell, with the Virginia Society of Ornithology, expresses that because the location is the only place the birds are known to nest in Virginia, there is a responsibility to protect them. Her solution: build a sand-topped island to which the soon-displaced birds may be attracted and will be safe from predators.

VDOT concludes that, “While construction of a new island will not be undertaken directly in association with the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion Project, DGIF is currently engaged with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the feasibility of constructing an island for the bird population, using dredged material, in the nearby area. The financing, permitting, and timing of any such effort is to be determined.”

   

Tagged categories: Department of Transportation (DOT); Environmental Protection; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Transportation; Tunnel; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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