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USDOT Announces $1.6B Hampton Roads Loan

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

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Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that its Build America Bureau would be providing a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act direct loan in the amount of up to $1.66 billion to the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission for the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Project.

The new loan will reportedly cancel and replace the existing 2019 TIFIA HRTAC Loan. In addition, the loan will also replace the existing $501 million TIFIA loans to HRTAC Regional Priority Project, which is a combination of six sub projects: I-64 Peninsula Widening (Phases I, II and III), I-64/I-264 Interchange Improvements (Phases I and II) and I-64 Southside Widening and High Rise Bridge Improvements located in the Hampton Roads, Virginia region.

USDOT reports that the new form of financing will consist of two TIFIA direct loans to HRTAC for up to $1.16 billion to finance up to 33% of the approximately $4 billion in eligible costs for the new HRBT Project. The project is also being supported by the Hampton Roads Trust Fund and toll revenues.

In replacing the HRTAC loan, the Commission is slated to generate savings of approximately $50 million over the life of the loan. The savings, in turn, will also enable HRTAC to implement additional improvements and upgrades in its transportation network.

The Bureau, which administers the TIFIA credit program, was established as a “one-stop-shop” to streamline credit opportunities while also providing technical assistance and encouraging innovative best practices in project planning, financing, delivery and operation.

The Bureau is reported to have the resources and commitment to provide additional flexibility and financial assistance to transportation projects in regions impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to minimize the negative effects and help them for quicker recovery from this crisis.

The USDOT has closed $36.1 billion in TIFIA financings, supporting more than $123 billion in infrastructure investment across the country.

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, 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. 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 2020, 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 administration of former President Donald J. Trump 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 late February to patrol the area around the clock, and 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 expansion from previously limited geotechnical borings and other early work on the South Island.

The following month, the Virginia Department of Transportation issued a Notice to Proceed to the joint venture in charge of expanding the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, Hampton Roads Connector Partners. The NTP allowed the venture to begin interstate and tunnel work on the HRBT expansion project’s 9.9-mile corridor.

Next steps for the project planned to involve assembling a tunnel boring machine in a 65-foot pit on the South Island. The machine was reported to be the length of a football field and plans to launch in early 2022 to start excavating the two tunnels.

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

The USDOT further reported that the HRBT Project is one of the Regional Priority Projects to create an eight-lane facility with six consistent lanes for approximately 10 miles. The expanded facility will include four general purpose lanes, two new High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes and two new drivable shoulders to be used as HOT lanes during certain times of the day.

It is anticipated that the HOT lanes will be incorporated into the Hampton Roads Express Lane Network (HRELN). The Project will include the construction of two new two-lane tunnels, expansion of the existing portal islands, and full replacement of the existing trestle bridges at the HRBT.

Other benefits of the project include increasing mobility in the region and reducing congestion; creating construction jobs and encouraging regional development; improving safety by improving evacuation routes in case of disaster; and providing additional capacity for quick and efficient deployment of military personnel while minimizing the impact to civilian traffic.

   

Tagged categories: Department of Transportation (DOT); Funding; Government; Government contracts; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Transportation; Tunnel

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