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HRBT Celebrates Expansion Groundbreaking

Thursday, November 5, 2020

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Arriving on the heels of October, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine led a ceremonial groundbreaking celebration for the $3.8 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project.

“While so much of our lives has changed during this unprecedented time, congestion at the Hampton Roads-Bridge Tunnel has remained remarkably consistent, which is why we are here today,” Valentine said.

The celebration took place on Oct. 29.

Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Project

The already-in-place 3.5-mile facility is composed of a couple of two-lane immersed tube tunnels—the westbound lanes opened in 1957, the eastbound lanes opened in 1976—with trestle bridges running to the shore. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, 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. (The islands were made by Merritt-Chapman & Scott.)

When the tunnel was built, it was set in 23 sections and welded together, forming over a mile of steel tube. During the final parts of construction, the tubes were squared off with ceilings of pre-formed metal.

In February 2019, Gov. 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. According to The Washington Post, the improvements are one of the largest projects in the commonwealth’s history and will largely be funded by regional gas and sales taxes, tolls and other options.

More specifically, VDOT reports that 95% of the funding will come from HRTAC. Other project funding is slated to include $200 million from the Commonwealth’s Smart Scale program and $108 million from VDOT for the replacement of the South Island Trestle Bridges.

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.

By January of this year, VDOT announced that it had completed pavement work at the nearly $4 billion project. However, the endeavor resulted 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.

Knowing that their home would be destroyed, Terri Cuthriell with the Virginia Society of Ornithology, was brought on with her pack of border collies in later February to patrol the area around the clock, which was scheduled to work throughout the summer when the migration season ceases.

Working in shifts and wearing protective eye gear, the dogs are currently patrolling on the bridge-tunnel complex’s south island. Additionally, crews also put down sand, set up decoys and installed a sound system to play bird calls and “colony chatter” on designated barge sites and on Fort Wool—an island fortification built in 1819 for coastal defense.

At the end of May, the Virginia Mercury reported that the relocation plan seemed to be working, with more than 2,000 terns already nesting at Fort Wool. Officials add that they’ve also seen signs of a new rookery of snowy egrets as well.

In August, HRCP was reported to have received all necessary state and federal permits to start work in waterways and along Interstate 64 (I-64) between Hampton and Norfolk, allowing to expand from previously limited geotechnical borings and other early work on the South Island.

“Acquiring the permits for a project of this magnitude in 16 months was a remarkable effort,” said HRBT Expansion Project Director Jim Utterback. “The coordination and collaboration among HRCP, federal and state agencies, and VDOT was a key to the success. Our goal is to continue this collaboration as we issue NTP and move into detailed design and construction of the project.”

Most recently in September, VDOT issued a Notice to Proceed to joint venture in charge of expanding the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, Hampton Roads Connector Partners. The NTP allows the venture to begin interstate and tunnel work on the HRBT expansion project’s 9.9-mile corridor.

Groundbreaking Ceremony

Described by Northam as an “exciting day,” the groundbreaking is an important step in finally easing the common traffic jams, some having been reported to exceed more than fix miles.

“I know we’ve all spent many hours sitting in traffic out here and this is just such a big, big deal—not only for Hampton Roads but for Virginia and for the East Coast,” Northam said.

According to the Suffolk News-Herald, although peak COVID-19 lockdowns reduced traffic volume on the structure to just 60% of its average, by Memorial Day the numbers had risen to 75% and since July, VDOT found that traffic volumes returned to 95% of its original average.

Following the ceremony, next steps for the project involve assembling a tunnel boring machine—slated to measure the length of a football field—in a 65-foot pit on the South Island. However, the machinery is still under construction in Germany and is expected to arrive in Hampton Roads in 2021. While assembly is expected to take several months, excavating plans for the two tunnels plans to launch in early 2022.

Officials note that most of the project’s construction will take place over a 55-month period, starting this year and commencing sometime in November 2025. The project is expected to bring 1,200-1,500 construction-related jobs to the region.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Roads/Highways; Tunnel

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