Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel

The Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel (HRBT) is a 3.5-mile-long (5.6 km) Hampton Roads crossing for Interstate 64 (I-64) and US Route 60 (US 60). It is a four-lane facility comprising bridges, trestles, artificial islands, and tunnels under the main shipping channels for Hampton Roads harbor in the southeastern portion of Virginia in the United States.

Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel
Westbound in the tunnel
Coordinates36°59′14″N 76°18′20″W / 36.987197°N 76.305542°W / 36.987197; -76.305542
Carries I-64 / US 60
CrossesHampton Roads
LocaleNorfolk to Hampton, Virginia
Maintained byVirginia Department of Transportation
DesignComposite: low-level trestle, parallel single-tube tunnels, artificial islands
Total length3.5 mi (5.6 km)
Clearance above14 ft 6 in (4.42 m) (eastbound)
13 ft 6 in (4.11 m) (westbound)
No. of lanes4 total: 2 westbound, 2 eastbound
OpenedNovember 1, 1957; 66 years ago (1957-11-01) (westbound)
November 1, 1976; 47 years ago (1976-11-01) (eastbound)

It connects the historic Phoebus area of the independent city of Hampton near Fort Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula with Willoughby Spit in the city of Norfolk in South Hampton Roads and is part of the Hampton Roads Beltway.

History and design edit

Prior to the opening of the HRBT (and well before even the HRBT's counterpart the Monitor–Merrimac Memorial Bridge–Tunnel, or MMMBT), the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) operated ferries to carry vehicle traffic across the harbor from the Southside to the peninsula. There were two routes: one from Hampton Boulevard near Naval Station Norfolk to downtown Newport News, and a second, less popular route from Willoughby Spit to Fort Monroe in Hampton. Traffic at the time was typically about 2500 vehicles per day. The original two-lane structure opened November 1, 1957, at a cost of $44 million (equivalent to $365 million in 2023[1]) as a toll facility. As population and traffic grew, construction on a parallel bridge–tunnel facility began in 1972. The construction of the $95-million (equivalent to $396 million in 2023[1]) second portion of the HRBT was funded as part of the Interstate Highway System as authorized under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, as a portion of I-64, which means that it was funded with 90 percent Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funds from the Highway Trust Fund and 10 percent VDOT funds. The second span opened on November 1, 1976, as a toll-free roadway.

Design edit

The HRBT has two 12-foot-wide (3.7 m) lanes each way, on separately built bridge–tunnel structures. The bridge–tunnel was originally signed as State Route 168 (SR 168) and US 60. It later received the I-64 designation when the second span opened in 1976, and, much later, SR 168 was truncated south of the crossing. The centerline of the HRBT tunnels cross a naturally deep channel ranging from 50 to 60 feet (15 to 18 m) deep and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide, with water only 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3.0 m) deep between the edge of the deep channel and each shore.

Part of the design features of the HRBT involved the use of artificial islands for the tunnel portals at the place where Hampton Roads flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel south portal island connects to about 20 acres (8.1 ha) of land that is the site of Fort Wool, a fort during the US Civil War, World War I, and World War II, and a public park since 1970. Fort Wool is on an artificial island known as Rip Raps, created in 1818. There is a small earthen causeway that connects Fort Wool to the HRBT south portal island including the island across the navigational channel of the mouth of Hampton Roads from Old Point Comfort was created for Fort Calhoun (a portion of the Fort Monroe complex later renamed Fort Wool).

Modern day edit

The eastbound span

Given its proximity to the US Navy's Atlantic Fleet home base at Naval Station Norfolk, many nearby shipyards and critical port facilities, the HRBT design incorporates a tunnel instead of a more cost effective drawbridge. A bridge–tunnel, if destroyed in wartime or due to natural disaster, would not block the vital shipping channels.

Eastbound in the tunnel

Another four-lane facility, the MMMBT was completed in 1992. The MMMBT provided a second bridge–tunnel crossing of the Hampton Roads harbor, supplementing the HRBT and providing some traffic relief. The MMMBT also forms part of the Hampton Roads Beltway and has a toll.

Over-height vehicles edit

The tunnel entrance

The current westbound tunnel from Norfolk to Hampton is the original tunnel constructed in 1957 and has a lower clearance than the newer eastbound tube built in the 1970s—13 feet 6 inches (4.11 m) compared to 14 feet 6 inches (4.42 m). Because of this, special over-height detectors have been installed near the Willoughby Spit end of the bridge alerting the truck driver to stop at the inspection station for a more precise measurement of the trucks height. If a truck driver ignores this alert or for whatever reason does not stop at the inspection station, VDOT personnel at the tunnel will be alerted and the truck will be alerted and flagged to stop prior to the tunnel entrance, where a fine up to $2,500 may be assessed if the over height occurs during rush hour. This is because any vehicle turnaround at the tunnel requires a full-stoppage of traffic in both directions in order to redirect the affected vehicle from one side of the bridge–tunnel to the other.[2][3] VDOT currently has identified new systems to improve the overheight detection system, by detecting vehicles well in advance of the tunnel to cut down on the over heights approaching the tunnel, This project is estimated to cost the state $900,000.

July 2009 flood edit

In July 2009, the westbound tube partially flooded after a thunderstorm hit the Hampton Roads region. The flooding was caused by a failed water main, which burst and led a chamber below the tunnel roadway to fill with millions of gallons of water. Pumps designed to remove water from the chamber were overwhelmed, and water began to puddle on the roadway, forcing VDOT to close the tunnel for nearly seven hours during midday on July 2, 2009.[4]

This closure forced hundreds of thousands of commuters, tourists, as well as Hampton Roads residents heading westbound for the Fourth of July holiday, to divert and go through the MMMBT or the James River Bridge, the only alternate routes to get to the peninsula. The MMMBT had troubles of its own during the afternoon, as a multiple-vehicle collision shut down the northbound lanes, closing the tunnel and causing a 20-mile (32 km) traffic jam[5] along I-664. The James River Bridge was also closed on July 2 because of downed wires from the storm.[6] The series of events involving all three water crossings led to a "perfect storm" of traffic which led to gridlock throughout all major arteries of Hampton Roads.

The flooding of the Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel caused widespread concern about evacuation capabilities of the region during the approach of a hurricane, as the HRBT, MMMBT, and the James River Bridge serve as the primary hurricane evacuation routes for residents of Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Chesapeake.[5]

July 2016 vehicle crash and fire edit

At 7:30 pm on July 16, 2016, a two-car collision between a Volkswagen Passat and an Acura occurred three-quarters of the way inside the eastbound tunnel, which travels from Hampton to Norfolk. The Acura was struck from the rear by the Passat; both vehicles burst into flames and filled the tunnel with smoke, leaving 35 vehicles stuck inside the tunnel behind the scene. Because neither of the tunnels have escape walkways, 80 drivers and passengers were required to walk out of the tunnel through the smoke, leaving their vehicles behind. While four others were taken to the hospital, 15 people were treated on the scene for smoke inhalation. The fires caused moderate to major damage to the walls of the tunnel, which VDOT repaired through nightly road work at the tunnel.[7]

The crash shut down traffic in both directions for four hours, finally reopening westbound at 11:00 pm, and reopening eastbound at 11:45 pm.[8] The driver of the Passat was cited with following too closely by Virginia State Police.[7]

Expansion in 2020s edit

Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel Expansion Project
LocationHampton Roads, Virginia
StatusUnder construction
Typenew bridge–tunnel and widening of highway to six lanes
Cost estimate$3.3 billion USD
Completion dateoriginally November 2025 later revised to 2027
StakeholdersVDOT, Cities of Hampton and Norfolk

According to Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), in 1958, an average of 6,000 vehicles a day used the facility whereas an average of 88,000 vehicles a day were using the crossing in 2008, with volumes exceeding 100,000 during the tourist season, well exceeding the original design capacity of 77,000 vehicles per day,[9] which sparked decades of debate on how to improve traffic flow at the region's most important water crossing. Studies into the growing traffic at the HRBT have roots back to the early 1990s. In 1992, the Virginia General Assembly had requested that VDOT study growing traffic at the HRBT. The conclusion of that study determined that a long-term large-scale solution to the problem would be required to alleviate backups. For the next 14 years, VDOT would undertake numerous studies in 1999, 2008, 2012, and 2016 to help choose a candidate build that was financially and physically feasible to build.

After nearly two decades of studies and planning, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, and the two regional boards responsible for the project (Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission/HRTPO) voted unanimously in 2016 to a $3.3-billion expansion of the current bridge–tunnel and its approaches from four lanes total to four lanes in both directions from the I-664 interchange to the I-564 interchange, with two new, two lane bridge–tunnels built to carry traffic eastbound (Hampton to Norfolk). A final environmental impact study was published in May 2017, and the record of decision from the FHWA was granted in June.[10][11] On October 29, 2020, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Hampton for the project. It was expected to be completed by November 2025 but this was later changed to 2027. [12][13] [14]

On April 17, 2024, a 430-foot-long boring machine broke through a concrete-lined pit on North Island, finishing the outline of the new westbound tunnel.[15][16]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b Johnston, Louis; Williamson, Samuel H. (2023). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved November 30, 2023. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the MeasuringWorth series.
  2. ^ "Bill: Oversized truck owners would be fined for using westbound HRBT". Daily Press. Newport News, Virginia. January 29, 2015. Retrieved December 23, 2023.
  3. ^ Ballesteros, Stephanie (June 29, 2015). "Change to law could ease HRBT congestion". WAVY News. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  4. ^ "Break in 52-year-old pipe caused HRBT mess". The Virginian-Pilot. Norfolk, Virginia. July 11, 2009. Retrieved October 26, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Messina, Debbie; Minium, Harry (July 3, 2009). "Motorists Stew, Officials Angered by Gridlock Debacle". The Virginian-Pilot. Norfolk, Virginia. Retrieved December 23, 2023.
  6. ^ Holtzclaw, Mike (July 2, 2009). "Storm's aftermath snarls Hampton Roads". Daily Press. Newport News, Virginia. Retrieved July 6, 2009.
  7. ^ a b Tucker, Kevin (July 17, 2016). "Driver charged after car crash causes fire at HRBT". WTKR News. Retrieved December 23, 2023.
  8. ^ "Four people taken to hospital following car fire in HRBT". WVEC News. Retrieved December 23, 2023.
  9. ^ "Hampton Roads Tunnels and Bridges". VDOT. Retrieved July 6, 2009.
  10. ^ "FAQs". Hampton Roads Crossing Study. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  11. ^ "News & Info". Hampton Roads Crossing Study. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  12. ^ "HRBT Expansion Project". VDOT. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  13. ^ "Hampton Roads Bridge and Tunnel (HRBT) Expansion". Flatiron. Retrieved December 23, 2023.
  14. ^ "Bridge Tunnel Expansion Will Take An Extra 18 Months To Finish". WHRO. Retrieved March 28, 2024.
  15. ^ "Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel". www.virginiaplaces.org. Retrieved May 24, 2024.
  16. ^ "Videos". Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion Project. Retrieved May 24, 2024.

External links edit