On the road again
Major road projects are happening across the state, but the undeniable headliner is the largest infrastructure project in state history, the $3.8 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion.
In October 2020, crews broke ground on the HRBT expansion, which will increase tunnel and interstate capacity along 9.9 miles of Interstate 64 between Hampton and Norfolk to reduce congestion and improve access to the Port of Virginia. The expansion will also enhance road safety, creating more emergency evacuation routes.
A massive underwater tunnel-boring machine will lay the path for twin two-lane tunnels (approximately 50 feet deeper than the current tunnels), which will be constructed west of the existing eastbound tunnel. More than two dozen marine bridges also will be replaced. The four-lane sections of the I-64 corridor between Settlers Landing Road in Hampton and the Phoebus shoreline — as well as the four-lane section of I-64 in Norfolk between the Willoughby Spit shoreline and the Interstate 564 interchange — will be widened to include an express lane and a shoulder that can be used as a drivable lane as needed.
Crews currently are building the launch pit for the tunnel-boring machine, which will bore the twin tunnels under the waterway between the bridge-tunnel’s existing manmade islands. This year, in preparation for bridge construction, crews are erecting temporary trestles where traffic will be redirected from existing trestles.
Construction on the I-64 widening from Settlers Landing Road and the Phoebus shoreline was scheduled to start in April and be completed by October 2024. The entire HRBT project is expected to be finished in late 2025 and will include a total of eight lanes across the water.
HRBT is only the fourth roadway project in the nation to use the tunnel-boring equipment. Virginia Beach middle schoolers named the machine Mary in honor of Mary Winston Jackson, a NASA scientist depicted in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures.” Once assembled, the titanic machine (which will be delivered in pieces to the U.S. in late summer or early fall) will be 46 feet in diameter, 350 feet long, weigh 4,700 tons and operate at 12,000 horsepower, says Louis Brais, a tunnel engineer with Hampton Roads Connector Partners (HRCP), the design-build team for the project. Land and tunnel work will happen simultaneously, with land work beginning this year and tunneling beginning in 2022. Two years into the project, underwater drilling will be happening 24 hours per day.
HRCP is a joint venture led by New York-based Dragados USA Inc. and including Vinci Construction, Flatiron Construction Corp. and Vinci subsidiary Dodin Campenon Bernard. Fairfax County-based engineering consulting firm Dewberry will provide quality assurance services for the project, working with the Virginia Department of Transportation and HRCP to ensure that materials meet project specifications. The Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission is the primary funding agent for the project, using local revenue from sales and gasoline taxes in the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund.
Other major transportation projects underway include:
Fred Ex, Transform 66 projects
With an eye toward reducing traffic congestion and improving connectivity on Interstates 495 and 95 for Northern Virginia commuters, 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. Transurban, which announced plans in December to sell half of its toll roads, is funding the construction of the $565 million Fredericksburg Extension (Fred Ex), which will offer 66% more capacity on I-95 during peak periods via a 10-mile extension of the freeway’s express lanes south to Exit 133. Transurban will operate and maintain the express lanes expected to open in 2022 and charge variable toll rates for using the lanes in a contract that extends until 2087.
VDOT, the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and I-66 Express Mobility Partners are also working on the $3.7 billion Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project. Improvements include 22.5 miles of new express lanes, which are expected to open along Interstates 66 and 495 in December 2022. The partnership also includes projects that will improve bus service and transit routes, add park and ride lots, improve interchanges and add
11 miles of bike and pedestrian trails.
SHENANDOAH/ SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA
Interstate 81 improvements
One of Virginia’s chief trucking corridors, Interstate 81 is slated for $2.2 billion in improvements this decade, with a 2031 completion date. Regional fuels taxes, statewide road and diesel taxes and truck registration fees are going toward improvements recommended for I-81 by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. In July 2019, localities along the interstate saw a 2.1% regional fuels tax bump, which will fund projects such as widening the highway, making curb improvements and adding auxiliary lanes. With a focus on safety and reliability concerns, bridge replacements, ramp extensions, highway widening, curb improvements and added auxiliary lanes are all part of the plan. The project focuses on the 325-mile stretch between Virginia’s borders with Tennessee and West Virginia.