Motorists travelling through the Hampton Roads region of Southeastern Virginia were treated to much-needed congestion relief in late August, thanks to the opening of a second lane in a new tunnel connecting Norfolk and Portsmouth.
The 4,000-foot, two-lane tunnel is a key part of the $2.1 billion Elizabeth River Tunnels Project. The tunnel carries westbound U.S. Route 58 traffic under the Elizabeth River. The first lane of the new tunnel opened to traffic in June. The existing 54-year-old Midtown Tunnel carries eastbound traffic on U.S. Route 58.
“The existing Midtown Tunnel is the most heavily traveled two-lane road east of the Mississippi,” said Derek Piper, design manager for WSP USA. “Since it opened in 1962, population in this region has increased nearly 70 percent, while tunnel usage increased by 600 percent.”
The second tunnel, known as the U.S. 58 West Midtown Tunnel, was built to relieve congestion and improve safety by eliminating the bi-directional traffic that used the existing Midtown Tunnel for nearly 55 years. When it first opened, the tunnel accommodated 8,400 vehicles a day. Today that daily volume has increased to 38,000 vehicles.
“Rush hour traffic queues at the tunnel were often several miles,” Piper said. “This created significant congestion on Norfolk streets surrounding the tunnel approach, which affects access to and from hospital and medical facilities in the area.”
In addition, he said the Portsmouth approach regularly has several-mile backups across the Western Freeway Bridge, affecting access to Virginia Port Authority facilities and surrounding industrial properties.
The new tunnel, together with other traffic improvements, will cut travel time by an average of 30 minutes per trip during peak commuting hours, Piper says.
The Elizabeth River Tunnels Project includes rehabilitation of the existing Midtown Tunnel (now known as the U.S. 58 East Midtown Tunnel), rehabilitation and improvements to both Downtown Tunnels, and a one-mile extension of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway—an elevated four-lane, north-south expressway with a raised median that connects State Route 164 to Interstate 264 and includes a new interchange with I-264.
Five storm water pump stations, two buildings, and two bridges for the Elizabeth River Trail were also key components of the project. It involved significant permitting for the use of an offshore disposal site for dredge materials and a 4,200-foot directional drill for a 36-inch raw water main under the Elizabeth River.
“The MLK Freeway extension required seven vehicular bridges—including the main line bridge that is nearly one-mile long—a pedestrian bridge, three noise barriers and other aesthetic treatments, not to mention coordination with two different railroads,” Piper said. The expressway was constructed in areas of poor subsurface materials, so embankments using both lightweight fill and EPS (extended polystyrene) were used to minimize settlement.
WSP is the lead designer for SKW Constructors, a joint venture of Skanska USA Civil Southeast, Kiewit, and Weeks Marine. SKW is the design-builder for the project owner, Elizabeth River Crossings, a corporation created to execute the project under a public-private partnership (P3) with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Work on the project began in May 2012, and was originally scheduled for completion in the spring of 2018. But with work nearly 80 percent complete now, the project is expected to be completed a year early.
Completion of the MLK Freeway extension is on target for the end of the year, while the rehabilitation of the U.S. 58 East Midtown Tunnel will bring the project to a close in the spring of 2017.
The new tunnel and three existing tunnels now feature longitudinal ventilation using jet fans, and the installation of bright, long-lasting and efficient LED lighting will reduce long term operating costs for Elizabeth River Crossings.
It is the first Virginia tunnel to use an all-electronic toll collection system, and features an intelligent transportation system with 60 closed-circuit cameras with automated incident detection capability and dynamic message signs along the project corridors to locate problems quickly and notify motorists.
The Elizabeth River Tunnels Project is the largest P3 project in the history of the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. The U.S. 58 West Midtown Tunnel is the first deep-water concrete immersed tube in North America, and the second all-concrete immersed tunnel in the U.S.
WSP played a role in the design of all four Elizabeth River tunnels connecting Norfolk and Portsmouth, including the first Downtown Tunnel, which opened in 1952; the first Midtown Tunnel (1962); and the second Downtown Tunnel, completed in 1982. Parsons Brinckerhoff also designed the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel crossings connecting Norfolk and Hampton, completed in 1957 and 1976.
Now the U.S. 58 West Midtown Tunnel can be added to that list of projects.
“I am very proud to have been part of both the design team and the overall design-build team responsible for delivering this important project for the region,” Piper said. “Professionally, projects like this make it easy to come to work every day. As a team, we are creating an important asset for the region and collectively improving the lives of the many people that use the tunnels every day.”