The Dominion Boulevard Improvements Project has been selected as the winner of a Grand Award by the Virginia chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC-Virginia).
The project converted nearly four miles of a two-lane rural roadway into a four-lane divided freeway from Interstate 64 to Grassfield Parkway in Chesapeake, Virginia. It also included the construction of three grade-separated interchanges at intersecting roadways and the construction of Veterans Bridge, a high-level fixed bridge that replaces a drawbridge crossing the Elizabeth River.
“With its signature bridge rising over 100 feet above the Southern branch of the Elizabeth River, the Dominion Boulevard Improvements Project is a shining example of a well-managed, major transportation project that provides economic, social and sustainable development benefits to the travelling public and surrounding communities,” said Scott Lovell, project manager for WSP USA. “This high-profile project not only improved traffic flow on one of the most highly congested roadways in Hampton Roads, but it improved maritime commerce along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway by eliminating the existing drawbridge in this location.”
WSP served as the prime consultant to the City of Chesapeake for planning, preliminary and final design, permitting, and construction support throughout the project development process.
Originally built as a two-lane rural roadway, Dominion Boulevard had become one of the most congested roadways in the Hampton Roads region, carrying over 33,000 vehicles per day.
“Congestion was exacerbated by frequent openings of the existing drawbridge, known locally as the Steel Bridge, highlighting the need for this critical transportation improvement,” Lovell said.
Dominion Boulevard is one of four projects nominated for the Pinnacle Award, which will be announced at the ACEC-Virginia Engineering Excellence Awards Gala in Richmond on Feb. 1. The Grand Award recognition also qualifies the project for the national ACEC Engineering Excellence Award.
“Winning this award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the WSP staff that made this project such a success,” Lovell said. “Jeff Walker, our design manager, deserves special recognition for his efforts from the conceptual design phase all the way through construction. He kept the team focused on meeting all of the critical milestones during the project development process.”
At $400 million, Dominion Boulevard is the largest locally administered project ever completed by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). While funding was initially provided through state and federal sources, it was insufficient to advance the project through construction. WSP assisted the city in evaluating several options for the roadway’s toll collection system, and worked closely with VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to finalize the approach that provided the necessary financing throughout its construction.
Given the complexity of the Dominion Boulevard corridor, several opportunities for the application of innovative solutions presented themselves throughout development of the project. One such examples was the design of the electronic toll collection system.
After evaluating cash toll lanes versus all-electronic open-road tolling, it was determined that the latter option was the best. “The capital cost for the additional infrastructure and rights,of,way needed to construct cash toll lanes could not be supported within a toll rate and time frame that was considered reasonable,” Lovell said.
One of the key technical challenges presented by this approach involved the design of the vehicle classification system. Since the roadway is located within a narrow corridor, locations for the overhead gantries to support toll collection were limited.
Locating the gantries on the main line bridges over the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway was chosen as the preferred option. Since the vehicle classification system could not utilize typical “in-lane” components embedded in the roadway due to interference from the reinforcing steel within the bridge deck, WSP recommended an all overhead, laser-based vehicle classification system.
“We researched system options and prepared the performance specifications for the contractor to install a fully overhead system,” Lovell said. “The system has operated virtually flawlessly since its opening.”
The Dominion Boulevard bridges also created innovation opportunities. The piers for the main channel crossing needed to be located behind the existing drawbridge piers, which had foundations extending 50 feet below the channel bottom.
With a 300-foot-long bridge span, WSP was required to investigate long-span bridge technologies, such as segmental concrete, steel plate girders and spliced concrete bulb-tee girders. The spliced bulb-tee girder option was selected.
“The spliced bulb-tee girder design incorporated several innovations that reduced the cost and construction duration for this main channel span over traditional spliced girder bridges,” Lovell said. “The design plans included a strong-back system that allowed for accurate placement and temporary support of the girders until post-tensioning could be completed.”
Bridge specifications also included advancements in the materials and procedures for grouting the post-tensioning ducts, which has posed problems for other post-tensioned structures. In addition, the design included a two stage post-tensioning system to eliminate the need for replacement of the bridge deck for the life of the structure.
“These innovations not only saved time and money during construction, but will minimize life-cycle costs for long-term maintenance of the structures,” Lovell said.
Construction began in early 2013 and the first bridge over the Elizabeth River was completed in December 2014, allowing the original drawbridge to be taken out of service, eliminating traffic stoppages due to bridge openings and greatly improving traffic flow. The project was completed in November 2016, nearly six months ahead of schedule and approximately $50 million under the original budget.
“Commuters now have a nearly congestion-free route from Interstate 64 all the way to the North Carolina state line,” Lovell said.
With the City of Chesapeake managing the project, the Dominion Boulevard Improvements project was under intense scrutiny from VDOT, the transportation industry, the public and elected officials. WSP played a key role in ensuring that all stakeholders were moving in the same direction.
“The communication and collaboration required to bring all the stakeholders together and to ensure that the project did not get bogged down in bureaucracy, was a significant accomplishment and something that could redefine the standard for administration of these types of projects in Virginia,” Lovell said.
WSP provided support to the city staff that actively maintained a project website and social media sites to provide project updates for the public. “The public efforts went well above the requirements for a typical project like this, increased awareness of the project development process and led to strong support in the community,” he said.
Lovell was grateful for the opportunity to work on a project that is improving the lives of Chesapeake area motorists.
“Being involved in a project like this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” he said. “I’m so grateful to WSP and the City of Chesapeake for placing their confidence in me and our team to help guide this incredible project through to construction.”
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