An update on statewide road projects
As the largest highway construction project in state history, the $3.8 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion is without question the most notable road project currently underway in Virginia.
Construction began in October 2020, and workers made a lot of progress last year, remaining on track to reach the Virginia Department of Transportation’s goal of a November 2025 finish date. Upon completion, the bridge and tunnel system will have six lanes and four two-lane tunnels on the 9.9-mile Interstate 64 corridor between Norfolk and Hampton. The expansion is designed to reduce congestion, improve access to the Port of Virginia and create more emergency evacuation routes.
Additionally, one mile of I-64 in Hampton and four miles in Norfolk will be widened to include an express lane and a drivable shoulder in each direction that will be variably priced tolled lanes.
Crews will use a $70 million, custom-built tunnel boring machine (TBM) to carve out an underwater path for the tunnels, which will be about 50 feet deeper than the current tunnels. HRBT is the fourth U.S. roadway project to use a TBM. The machine’s front end has a 46-foot-diameter cutterhead that will create an approximately 45-foot-wide opening. The machine, named “Mary” after Mary Winston Jackson, the late NASA mathematician and aerospace engineer depicted in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures,” was being assembled this spring, with excavation scheduled to start this summer.
Crews nearly doubled the size of North Island and have begun work to build the receiving pit for the TBM. On the South Island, crews are working to excavate down more than 70 feet.
Crews are also working on replacing or rebuilding more than two dozen bridges and have installed hundreds of piles that will form the foundation of new marine trestle bridges.
The project’s design-build contractor is Hampton Roads Connector Partners — a joint venture led by New York-based Dragados USA Inc. and including Vinci Construction, Flatiron Construction Corp. and Vinci subsidiary Dodin Campenon Bernard.
Other major ongoing transportation projects around the commonwealth include:
Improve 95, Transform 66 projects
As part of its Improve 95 plan to relieve congestion, the state government entered into a $1 billion public-private partnership with Transurban, an Australian toll-road operations company with its U.S. headquarters in Alexandria. The Fredericksburg Extension (Fred Ex) project will extend Interstate 95 express lanes about 10 miles south to Exit 133 in Stafford County, and Transurban will operate and maintain the lanes and charge variable usage tolls in a contract that extends until 2087. Construction on the $565 million project started in spring 2019.
As of March, the project is running behind its scheduled opening date this year, and the completion date for contracted construction is now set for 2023. Developers say the extension will provide 66% more capacity during peak periods.
Further north, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation and I-66 Express Mobility Partners are working on the $3.7 billion Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project, which will build 22.5 miles of new express lanes alongside Interstates 66 and 495. The lanes are scheduled to open in December. The project also includes improved bus service and transit routes, expanded park and ride lots, interchange improvements and 11 miles of new bike and pedestrian trails.
SHENANDOAH/ SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA
Interstate 81 improvements, Coalfields Expressway
The $2.2 billion Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program consists of 64 planned improvements to the 325-mile corridor from Bristol to Winchester. Focused on safety and reliability, the project includes bridge replacements, ramp extensions, highway widening, curb improvements and additional auxiliary lanes. The program has a 2031 completion date, and improvements are in varying stages. One recently completed project is the replacement of nearly 60-year-old bridges over Reed Creek in Wythe County, which concluded in September 2021.
The Coalfields Expressway (CFX) — U.S. Route 121 — is a proposed 115-mile highway to improve transportation connectivity between Southwest Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, boosting commerce and tourism. A 2021 report by Richmond-based Chmura Economics & Analytics estimated the CFX’s cumulative economic impact during a 50-year span would be $12.8 billion in 2021 dollars, based largely on largely on construction spending and new service businesses expected to locate along the route. Seven miles of the expressway overlap U.S. Route 460 and are the only miles of Virginia’s roughly 50-mile portion of the CFX funded so far.
In January, VDOT announced a $207 million agreement to construct a two-mile section of U.S. 460 that will extend from near state Route 604 to the existing Route 460 in Grundy. Construction is expected to begin in late 2022 or early 2023. As for the rest of the expressway, supporters say they need more federal funding. In March, the U.S. House included $1.99 million in its fiscal 2022 federal spending bill, now law, for planning, budgeting and design work on expanding the CFX from Grundy to West Virginia.
This article has been corrected since publication.