Elizabeth River Crossing: News and Updates

Volume 4, Issue 1 | September 2015
Elizabeth River Tunnels: News and Updates

Connections features updates to construction, traffic, community impacts, and other issues to keep you up to date on the progress of the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project. 

Travel Impacts

Due to impending weather expected this weekend, construction-related travel impacts are subject to change. Please visit the Travel Impacts page for the most current schedule.

Website Information

Security is a top priority for ERT. The DriveERT.com website uses strong HTTPS encryption (also known as HTTP over TLS, or Transport Layer Security) by default in order to keep your internet experience safer while on our site. Our website requires that your browser be compatible with TLS 1.1/TLS 1.2.

If you are having issues viewing or accessing the website, please be sure to update your Chrome, Internet Explorer or Firefox browser to the most up-to-date version.

E-ZPass Reload Card – A New Way to Pay

VDOT has a convenient new option for replenishing your Virginia E-ZPass account. 
The E-ZPass Reload Card is now available at hundreds of Hampton Roads retailers. The card is the size of a credit card and is reusable, so you can easily replenish your account with cash at any participating retailer.
While automatic replenishment with a credit or debit card remains the most popular way to manage your E-ZPass account, the new Reload Card makes it convenient for customers who prefer to manually replenish with cash. The card can also be loaded using a credit or debit card, or any payment the store accepts. There’s a $1.50 retailer fee each time you add funds to your account.
Here’s how it works:
  • Make sure you have a Virginia E-ZPass transponder.
  • Pick up a card at a participating retailer including 7-Eleven, CVS, FasMart and Pit Stop. View a full list of retailers at http://www.ezpassva.com/EZPages/Reload-Card-Retail-Locations.aspx
  • Hand the card to the cashier and indicate the amount you want to add to your account (from $10 to $500), then pay it plus the $1.50 retailer fee.
Call the toll-free number (1-855-583-5306) to link the card to your E-ZPass account. After following the instructions, the funds will be immediately credited to your E-ZPass account. The linking process is only required once. Keep the Reload Card for future reloads at any of the participating retailers.
In addition to the E-ZPass Reload Card and automatic replenishment, other E-ZPass replenishment options include adding funds to your account online or by phone with a credit or debit card; or with cash, a credit or debit card or by check at any E-ZPass Customer Service Center.
Learn more about the E-ZPass Reload Card by visiting http://www.ezpassva.com/reloadcard/ or watching a video at http://www.ezpassva.com/EZPages/How-To-Video.aspx

SKW Role on the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project


It may seem a bit like alphabet soup, but the recipe for the organizational structure for the Elizabeth River Tunnels (ERT) Project is standard for Public Private Partnerships: Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) and Skanska Kiewit Weeks (SKW).
In its simplest terms, SKW’s Project Director Wade Watson likes to describe the structure of the partnership thusly: “VDOT is always the owner, ERC is the caretaker for 58 years and SKW is the design builder that leaves when the job is done.”
SKW is central to the partnership during this construction phase; it is designing and building the new Midtown Tunnel, rehabilitating the two Downtown Tunnel tubes and the existing Midtown Tunnel, and constructing the Martin Luther King (MLK) Freeway Extension.
A design-build joint venture created specifically for the construction of the ERT Project, SKW Constructors is comprised of Skanska USA Civil Southeast Inc., Kiewit Infrastructure Co. and Weeks Marine, Inc. The companies have worked together before, but in other combinations.
SKW has a fixed price, design-build contract with ERC to deliver the project. SKW is self-performing most of the construction work and has employed as many as 500 direct project employees at its peak. Some were brought to the region for this job and some already worked here for one of the companies, but most were hired from the local Hampton Roads workforce.
SKW also subcontracts some of the work. Major subcontractors include Parsons Brinckerhoff for design, Transdyn for ITS integration, Mass Electric for electrical works and Norfolk Dredging for dredging. Two Small, Women- and Minority-owned (SWaM) businesses, Curtis Contracting and Waterfront Marine, are subcontracted to build the MLK Extension.
SKW occupies a trailer complex on the construction site. It is co-located there with the design managers, quality assurance and quality control teams. “We have a very open working relationship,” Watson said.
Following the completion of the construction phase of the Project, and after a one-year warranty period following handover of the Project to VDOT, SKW Constructors will be dissolved.
“These project-specific joint ventures come together solely for the purpose of designing and building a project, and once the construction is complete and the project has been turned over to the owner, the joint venture company goes away,” Watson explained.

Employee Spotlight: Bruce Wilkerson

This is essentially the second time Bruce Wilkerson has retired from the Elizabeth River tunnels.
Wilkerson first retired from VDOT after 40 years, most of them spent as the facilities manager for the Downtown and Midtown tunnels, the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel.
This month, he retired from ERC after more than three years as chief operating officer.
At age 69 ½, retirement may stick this time. But not just yet. Wilkerson is helping out on some special projects for the next couple months.
Wilkerson started working for ERC in May 2012, one of a handful of people initially hired to launch the new company to manage the tunnel operations and oversee construction of a new Midtown tunnel and rehabilitation of the existing Midtown and Downtown tunnels. He had already been away from the tunnels for eight years, working locally for an engineering consultant.
His decision to return to the tunnels was as much emotional as professional.
“I was really interested in coming back for the challenge but also to restore the tunnels because it was needed,” Wilkerson said. “I have an attachment to this landmark and want to see it come back to its original glory.”
That handful of employees has since grown to 125, about 105 of them working in operations and maintenance which Wilkerson oversaw. “We went from 0 to 100 percent operational in 60 days, including purchasing all the equipment, hiring the staff, and training and outfitting them.”
Wilkerson is proud of his team’s accomplishments operating and maintaining the tunnels, and he is also proud of the rehabilitation work at the Downtown Tunnel.
“It’s in so much better shape, it’s incredible,” he said.
Exactly what comes next for Wilkerson isn’t certain, but he is confident it will not involve being on call 24/7 and will involve his three children and six grandchildren who all live locally.
“I’m going to be a husband, father and grandfather,” he said.

ERC Marks Third Operations and Maintenance Anniversary

Crystal Forster tries her hand at the lasso during the O&M event, "Country Jamboree."

ERC assumed responsibility from its partner, VDOT, for operations and maintenance of the Downtown and Midtown tunnels in July 2012.

The agreement with ERC allows VDOT to use private-sector technical, management and financial resources to deliver an enhanced transportation system to the citizens of Hampton Roads in a faster and less costly manner.

Three years in, ERC has upheld the safety and security measures necessary for these critical infrastructures as part of its 58-year contract with the Commonwealth.

To mark the occasion, ERC annually celebrates with its over 120 employees during a themed afternoon filled with food, prizes and fellowship to commemorate the hard work demonstrated by each employee to support ERC’s commitment to service and motorist safety. This year, the theme was “Country Jamboree,” and featured line dancing and harvest-style fare. As with every event, ERC donated extra food to the H.E.R. Shelter.

As part of its duties, ERC’s roadside safety team responds to motorists in need by monitoring the Downtown and Midtown tunnels and nearby roadways. Together, the team has reduced the average clearance time of crashes to less than 10 minutes.

A map of the ERT Project area. ERT is responsible for the operations and maintenance of these roadways.

“I am proud to once again commemorate a successful year of operations and maintenance with the ERC team,” said ERC CEO Greg Woodsmall. “Our team’s commitment to motorist and employee safety on the ERT-monitored roadways is worth recognition.”

In addition to providing roadside assistance, the maintenance team keeps the Downtown and Midtown tunnels operational for motorists through regularly-scheduled preventative care. ERC’s maintenance team works to sweep, clean and keep the tunnels well-lit, ensuring a smooth and safe ride between Norfolk and Portsmouth. 

ERT On-the-job Training Program Brings Out the Passion for Work in Graduates

“If you would be happy for life, love your work.”

Hampton Roads residents Maurice Dickson (picture right) and Tyree Willis (pictured below) agree, wholeheartedly, with this unknown author. The two are graduates of the ERT On-the-Job Training (OJT) program, and they believe they have found careers they are passionate about.

The purpose of the OJT program is to establish apprenticeship and training programs to prepare women, minorities and disadvantaged individuals for journey-level positions. This ensures a competent workforce is available to meet transportation construction hiring needs. The program addresses the historical under-representation of these groups in skilled and semi-skilled crafts.

ERT uses this VDOT-approved OJT program to increase training and job opportunities for target groups.

Since 2012, the ERT OJT program has been building the skill level of local women, minorities and disadvantaged persons to provide area highway construction companies with qualified individuals for this contract.

All trainees who finish the OJT program have the opportunity to work on the ERT Project. It has the added benefit of preparing graduates to be competitive for positions on future contracts.

“Currently, we have 70 positions, which is great, but that’s not all we want to have,” said Vincent Powell, DBE Compliance Manager for SKANSKA USA Civil on the ERT Project. “Recently, we got a big push to train more individuals who want to work on the Project. We have had 49 graduates to date and another 24 currently enrolled, with some on a waiting list. One of the areas we are looking to train is carpentry. We are in search of a lead carpenter that has proven his craft, who has the ability to train others as our carpentry lead.”

Maurice Dickson from Virginia Beach says he learned about the program from a former co-worker. He heard about positions for skilled concrete workers and decided to try out the training.

“I found I really liked working with concrete, and I am proud and happy I made it to graduation,” said 

Dickson, who looks forward to being part of the regular crew of skilled concrete workers for the ERT Project. “I will be glad to get my first paycheck when I transition to a position as a regular worker.”

Tyree Willis comes from Portsmouth and worked as a shipyard painter for several years. Over the course of his 10-month OJT training, he learned techniques for pouring and spreading concrete.

“The work was hard, but the experience I gained was great. It gave me a chance to grow,” said Willis. 

Willis has long-term plans directly related to this opportunity. “In the next five to 10 years, I intend to build my own concrete business. I feel I can accomplish whatever I want to do if I am willing to work hard. And I like working hard.”

To learn more, visit the Subcontracting page of our website.

Willis poses with his certificate after completing OJT.

Construction Updates

Midtown Tunnel Construction

Marine Work

Crews add backfill to the tunnel elements in the Elizabeth River.

At the new Midtown Tunnel construction site, the Project team continues the backfill phase. In the next few months, they will add the final fill layers on top of each of the 11 elements. The final layer, comprised of armor stone, will be added over the elements that fall within the Federal Channel to protect the tunnel from ship anchors. 
Tunnel Interior Work

Element 10 and 11 bulkhead demolition.

All of the tunnel elements are now connected and crews are in various stages of the joint locking process. Work is underway on the final joint between Elements 10 and 11. The temporary bulkheads between them have been removed, opening the tunnel up to the final bulkhead at the Norfolk end. The final Omega seal (the secondary seal at each joint) will be installed in this joint next month. The final bulkhead at the Norfolk end of Element 11 will not be removed until the closure section is complete.
Remaining work inside the tunnel includes installation of fire protection boards on the roofs and walls, completing ballast concrete pours, topping slabs in the egress corridors and roadways and installation of permanent electrical and mechanical equipment.
Work is also underway in the corridor side of the tunnel. The corridor will provide emergency egress in the tunnel and also includes a space that holds the electrical conduits and panels, communications equipment, fire protection systems and tunnel drainage equipment and piping. 
Electrical contractors are installing conduits and panel boxes in the egress corridor while other contractors erect the walls for the emergency exit egress corridor.  

Learn more about the construction of the new tunnel on our Midtown Tunnel page.

Portsmouth and Norfolk Approaches

The Portsmouth Approach of the new Midtown tunnel begins to take shape.

Construction of the Portsmouth approaches and the new overheight vehicle road began this month. The approach roadway will connect the new Midtown Tunnel with westbound U.S. 58 and the new overheight vehicle road will provide a turnaround for vehicles which cannot enter the existing Midtown Tunnel due to height restrictions. 
At the Portsmouth Control Building, crews continue with the installation of the brick façade and roofing material. The Project team is planning for future installation of the electrical and mechanical equipment, which will provide power, communications and emergency water for the tunnel.
At the Norfolk Approach, crews have finished the final invert of the mainline Boat Section, and work on excavating the crossover section is now in progress. Construction at the Norfolk Tunnel Support Building continues with the completion of most of the concrete masonry unit walls.
Tunnel Closure Section

The final piece of the new Midtown Tunnel, the tunnel closure section, is nearing completion. The concrete invert has been poured and the wall and the roof sections are almost finished.
Tide Gate
The next critical part of the tunnel’s construction is the installation of the tide gate in the Norfolk cut-and-cover section. The tide gate is under construction in Oregon and is scheduled to be delivered next month and installed later this fall. A section of the tunnel support building will house the gate and lower it into place in a slot inside the cut-and-cover section as needed. 

I-264 Downtown Tunnel Rehabilitation 

I-264 West Downtown Tunnel
Rehabilitation of the westbound tunnel is almost finished. A final check has been conducted with ERC, SKW and VDOT personnel present.  
I-264 East Downtown Tunnel
ITS conduit and cabinet foundation work continues on both the east and west sides of the eastbound tunnel. On the east approach, all traffic control cabinets are installed and work is underway to connect temporary power to begin testing. Work on traffic control cabinets is also progressing on the west approach and jet fan testing is underway. Crews installed new LED lighting in the left lane and are removing old lighting in the right lane. All lighting is scheduled to be installed and functional next month. In the coming weeks, testing of all systems will be performed. 

For more information about tunnel rehabilitation, including current closures and answers to frequently asked questions, visit the Rehabilitation page.

Martin Luther King (MLK) Extension 

Crews add rebar to the mainline, which will serve as the main roadway of the new MLK Extension.

Construction of the MLK extension continues this month as crews widen the I-264 West bridge over the Norfolk and Portsmouth Beltline (NPBL) railroad and the Des Moines Avenue bridge.
Along the mainline, the first of several deck units is now complete. The Project team is now installing steel girders and deck pans along the future raised roadway and adjacent future ramps.
At the Harbor Drive corridor, construction of retaining walls along the roadway is in progress and overhead signs are now installed along newly-constructed alignments.
To accommodate construction and future traffic on the MLK Extension, several ramps and roads have been permanently or temporarily closed.
Permanent closures include:
  • I-264 East Des Moines Avenue off-ramp
  • I-264 West South Street on-ramp
  • Harbor Drive
Long-term temporary closures include:
  • Frederick Boulevard, northbound and southbound left lane for pile driving and storm drainage construction through the fall
  • I-264 East Frederick Boulevard off-ramp
  • One lane in each direction of I-264 near Frederick Boulevard
  • Portions of Trexler Avenue, King Street, County Street, and Meander Road
  • Intermittent closures of Turnpike Road between Confederate and Constitution Avenues
Motorists are advised to follow the signed detours in the City of Portsmouth to navigate around the closures.

Learn more on the MLK Page.

Connect With Us

Project information is available at www.DriveERT.com. For questions or comments, contact us at info@DriveERT.com.