New tunnel will be twice as big. Here’s how they will build it.

The new tunnels are expected to increase the number of people who can travel from the Southside to the Virginia Peninsula, mitigate traffic congestion, allow more people to evacuate during an emergency or hurricane, and increase business efficiencies in the region. (Courtesy photo/Tom Saunders VDOT)
The new tunnels are expected to increase the number of people who can travel from the Southside to the Virginia Peninsula, mitigate traffic congestion, allow more people to evacuate during an emergency or hurricane, and increase business efficiencies in the region. (Courtesy photo/Tom Saunders VDOT)

While the new Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel is still early in the design and construction process, the new tunnel could double the number of cars able to pass from Hampton to Norfolk.

Nearly 90,000 vehicles pass through the current HRBT on an average day, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation, but by 2024 an all new tunnel system could relieve traffic congestion in the region.

“We know through the studies that we needed more lanes,” project director James Utterback said.

While details on the construction of the tunnels are still up in the air, according to Utterback, the project has several purposes that will need to be met regardless of the design.

The new tunnels are expected to increase the number of people who can travel from the Southside to the Virginia Peninsula, mitigate traffic congestion, allow more people to evacuate during an emergency or hurricane, and increase business efficiencies in the region.

Beyond those requirements and the price tag of as much as $3.8 billion, design and construction will be left to bidding firms.

In December, VDOT issued a request for qualifications for the project. Construction and infrastructure companies have until March 2 to submit their qualifications to VDOT.

Two different styles of tunneling could be used in the creation of a new Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, but to understand what might be built, it’s necessary to know what was built.

The current tunnel is actually two separate tunnels made of steel tubing in a process called “immersed-tube tunnelling,” according to Utterback.

“It’s really a steel casing with concrete inside of it,” Utterback said. “I think at one time Hampton Roads had the most immersed-tube tunnels of any urban area not only in the country but of the world.”

Massive sections of tunnel are built in a port before they are sealed and floated into place.

The current tunnels were shipped in sections as long as football fields before they were moved into place.

Immersed-tube tunneling such as this project between Denmark and Germany is being considered for the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

The other style of tunneling, boring a hole deep into the Earth would involve a tunnel boring machine moving at a pace slower than a snail from one end or another.

VDOT expects five or six qualified companies with tunneling and construction experience to submit proposals, according to spokeswoman Paula Miller. Qualified companies will also have to share their finance books with VDOT.

“What we’re looking at right now is the best value procurement,” Utterback said before adding that contractor teams will submit qualifications for tunnel boring, immersed-tube tunnelling, or both.

Companies that fit the bill will find out in April 2018. Then, the companies may submit proposals for the design and construction of the project, as well as their estimated costs for the project, according to the release.

VDOT will award a contract to a company in spring 2019, and construction is slated to start in mid-2019

The new tunnel will follow nearly the same route as the current tunnel in an attempt to “optimize” the right of way VDOT currently owns, Utterback said.

The project will bring Hampton Roads an eight-lane bridge-tunnel as well as express toll lanes.

Despite the toll lanes, free lanes will remain available for anyone to use, according to VDOT.

Two of the four lanes will be free lanes, while there will be one express toll lane. Another can be used as an express toll lane during “peak traffic,” according to Miller..

Most of the funding for the project will come from the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC) with “federal support and other resources,” according to VDOT.

While it’s at least six years away from being finished, a new Hampton Roads Bridge Tbrunnel is in the works.

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