For the HRBT project, it’s going to be the bored-tunnel method

The project represents VDOT’s first bored tunnel

The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project will move forward with the bored-tunnel construction method to deliver the next connection across the Hampton Roads harbor, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced Thursday.

This week both competing teams-Hampton Roads Capacity Constructors and Hampton Roads Connector Partners notified VDOT they selected the bored-tunnel method as the basis for their bid proposals, which will be submitted in late 2018, according to a VDOT news release.

“The selection of a bored tunnel means Hampton Roads will see some of the world’s most sophisticated tunnel technology at work. Once complete, this new crossing will greatly improve accessibility, transit, emergency evacuation, and military and goods movement along the I-64 corridor,” said VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich.

Although the immersed-tube method was used to construct all 10 of Hampton Roads’ existing crossings – from the original Downtown Tunnel in 1952 to the new Midtown Tunnel in 2016 – recent technology advances have now made bored tunnels feasible in the region’s soft soils.

The Parallel Thimble Shoal Tunnel, currently under construction at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, is also being built as a bored tunnel for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Commission.

This technology involves a massive tunnel-boring machine, or TBM, with a rotating cutting head that excavates soil along the tunnel’s path.

Advantages of this construction method include significantly less environmental impact to marine wildlife than with the immersed-tube approach, which would have required dredging a deep, mile-long trench across the Hampton Roads waterway.

In addition, VDOT officials said because the tunnel-boring machine excavates from beneath the riverbed, this technology greatly reduces disruption to commercial and military shipping in one of the nation’s most important navigation channels.

The project represents VDOT’s first bored tunnel. In addition to HRBT and the Thimble Shoal project, other bored roadway tunnels in the United States include the Port of Miami Tunnel and the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement in Seattle, Washington, according to VDOT.

Inside and out of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel on I-64. (Southside Daily file photo)
The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel on I-64. (Southside Daily file photo/Courtesy of VDOT)

The HRBT Expansion project will build a new bridge-tunnel adjacent to the existing HRBT and widen the four-lane segments of Interstate 64 in Hampton and Norfolk to ease daily congestion between the Peninsula and South Hampton Roads.

The project cost is estimated between $3.3 and $3.8 billion, with contract award expected in early 2019, according to VDOT.

The majority of project funding will be provided by the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, with federal support and other public resources anticipated.

More information about the project is available here.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.