Elizabeth River Crossing: News and Updates

Volume 3, Issue 1 | Q3 2014
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

I-264 Downtown Tunnel Rehabilitation
The Downtown Tunnel westbound to Portsmouth closure schedule is as follows:
  • Full closures: Wednesday and Thursday, October 1-2 from 8 p.m. each night until 5 a.m. the following morning.
  • Single lane closures: No scheduled closures.
The Downtown Tunnel eastbound to Norfolk closure schedule is as follows:
  • Full direction closures:
    • Oct. 3-6: No scheduled closures
    • Oct. 10-13: No scheduled closures
  • Single lane closures: Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 1-2 from 8 p.m. each night until 5 a.m. the following morning.
Visit the Travel Impacts page for more information.

Construction Updates

Tunnel Fabrication

A view of tunnel Elements 7-11 at Sparrows Point, Maryland.

The Project team continues fabrication of the second litter of tunnel elements at Sparrows Point in Maryland. To date, tunnel element fabrication is 35 percent complete. Float out of the final litter of elements from Sparrows Point to the Project site in Portsmouth is scheduled for spring of 2015.
Elements 1-6 are currently moored at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal docks while crews continue to prepare them for placement. The initial ballast concrete has been poured in Elements 1-3. This adds additional weight to the elements to aide in the immersion process. Crews are now pressure washing inside Elements 4-6 in preparation for ballast concrete placement in the coming weeks. Element 1 is scheduled for placement in early October.

Learn more about the construction of the new tunnel on our Midtown Tunnel page.
View photos of the float out of elements one through six and their arrival to Hampton Roads on our Flickr page.

Portsmouth and Norfolk Approaches

At the Portsmouth approach, work on the cut-and-cover section is nearing completion and crews are preparing for the placement of the first tunnel element. In the slot, crews have finished the final roof section, poured the first two sections of the tunnel support building and placed the “cut-off” walls. The “cut-off” walls are placed on either side of the sections to hold back water from flooding the approach while steel piling is removed. Final preparation requires curing and waterproofing the area between the cut-and-cover section and the slot so the steel sheet pile walls can be removed in preparation for the placement of Element 1 in early October. 

At the Norfolk Approach, all three inverts (lower base sections of each element) and two walls in the cut-and-cover section are finished. In the boat section, crews have completed one invert. The boat section refers to the open air, U-shaped section of concrete before the cut-and-cover.

Marine Work

The screed sled levels the foundation for the new Midtown Tunnel.

Excavation for the placement of Elements 1-3 is complete on the Portsmouth side and the Project team continues to level the base foundation. On top of the slot walls, a movable sled sits and levels the foundation with a screed blade. “Screeding” refers to the process of leveling the material on the bottom of the river. The screed blade hangs by cables underneath the sled and levels the foundation to the designated grade of the tunnel.

I-264 Downtown Tunnel Rehabilitation 

During full tunnel closures of the I-264 West Downtown Tunnel, crews continue testing the 16 jet fans as part of the new ventilation system. After installation of the new reversible lane signals and dynamic message boards last month, motorists may see test messages displayed on the message boards as part of the testing protocol for the new traffic management system. 
Crews at the I-264 East Downtown Tunnel continue to install the support brackets for conduit racks and are repairing the concrete barrier. Crews will need to first repair concrete on the tunnel ceiling in preparation for Promat fireproofing installation. 

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

Martin Luther King Freeway (MLK) Extension Construction Progresses

Column forms for the new raised expressway go up along the main alignment.

The Martin Luther King Freeway (MLK) Extension project is an interchange system consisting of six bridges, two bridge widenings, and miles of roadway which will connect motorists to both the Downtown and Midtown tunnel. Work on the MLK Extension is currently focused in three areas—the Interstate 264 interchange, Harbor Drive, and the London Boulevard interchange.
Interstate 264 interchange:
Piers, embankments, and MSE (mechanically stabilized earth) walls are being constructed adjacent to the interstate for the new ramps and flyovers. Production pile driving is well underway for the new flyover. The replacement pedestrian bridge over Interstate 264 (I-264) is in production and will be set in place by the end of the year.
Harbor Drive alignment:
Test pile driving is in progress through the Harbor Drive corridor for the new elevated section. The test pile rig is now north of Turnpike Road. Public utilities (water and sewer) are being relocated.
London Boulevard interchange:
The new London Boulevard South ramp is nearing completion and is expected to be open this fall. Once that ramp reopens, the remainder of Harbor Drive from London Boulevard to High Street will permanently close for new construction. The new ramp south of the intersection is under construction. The foundations are complete for the 40-foot-tall brick obelisks.
All private utilities have been relocated and all rights-of-way parcels have been acquired.
To accommodate construction and future traffic, several ramps and roads have been closed, some permanently and some temporarily. They include the permanent closures of the I-264 East Des Moines Avenue off-ramp, the I-264 West South Street on-ramp, and Harbor Drive between High Street and Turnpike Road. The newest temporary closure is Turnpike Road between Confederate and Constitution Avenue until the end of 2016. Other temporary closures include the I-264 East Frederick Boulevard off-ramp, the MLK ramps to London Boulevard, portions of Trexler Avenue, and portions of King Street, County Street, and Meander Road. Additionally, one lane on either side of I-264 near Frederick Boulevard has been closed for construction.
Motorists are advised to follow the signed detours in the City of Portsmouth to navigate around the closures.
Nearly 100 percent of the MLK work is being performed by DBE/SWaM businesses.  Construction continues through December 2016.

Learn more on the MLK Page of DriveERT.com.

Local Small Business Growth

The Elizabeth River Tunnels (ERT) Project is creating significant economic benefits to the Hampton Roads community by contracting with local small and disadvantaged businesses.
Contracts worth more than $250 million have been awarded to more than two hundred small and disadvantaged firms, half of which are based in Hampton Roads. That means more jobs for local residents and revenue for home-grown businesses.
The robust program is exceeding construction, operations, and maintenance goals set by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
For construction, 12 percent of project expenditures are allocated to companies certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and 23 percent to businesses certified as a Small, Women- or Minority-Owned Business (SWaM).
The Project’s design-build contractor, SKW Constructors, has already awarded $108.1 million of work to DBEs, exceeding the $107.7 million goal. More than $153 million has gone to SWaMs, which is on target to meet the $202.4 million goal by the time construction is complete in late 2017. SKW has hired 40 DBEs and 132 SWAMs directly, and 33 DBEs and 83 SWaMs as subcontractors.
On the operations and maintenance side of the ERT Project, Elizabeth River Crossings’ annual goal is 12 percent DBE and 25 percent SWaM. Through the first half of the year, 31 percent of expenses went to DBE firms and 25 percent to SWaM. In 2014, more than $1.8 million of work has been awarded to Hampton Roads businesses—close to half of ERC’s contracts. ERC has engaged 30 DBE firms and 147 SWaM firms, directly or indirectly, since the Project began just over two years ago.
Local Examples of Project Benefits:
Metals of Distinction
Andre Gilliam’s steel fabrication and welding business that his father started in Hampton in 1969 was close to shutting down in the bad economy before the ERT Project. “I was wondering if I was going to make it,” he said. “But I kept holding on to it. I was able to run a one-man show for a while.”
Today, he’s had as many as twenty employees on the Project between Hampton Roads and Sparrows Point in Maryland where the tunnel elements are fabricated. His involvement grew from a $29,000 job to over $1 million. Metals of Distinction, which trades as Gilliam Welding, supplies welders and metal fabrication.
The work has allowed Gilliam to double his equipment supply and to contract to buy the building he’s rented for years.
“It’s the biggest project we’ve ever had,” Gilliam said.
MJ Synergy Group
This small architecture and engineering firm in Virginia Beach provides construction oversight and inspection services for the Martin Luther King Extension and tunnel rehabilitation on the ERT Project. The woman and minority-owned business is headed by Angela Buckner.
The ERC contract helped the company double its staff from four to eight employees, Buckner said. Being awarded this contract has also created work close to home. Much of MJ Synergy’s work has been in the Washington D.C. area.
“Being a Portsmouth native, to be part of this project in Portsmouth has emotional meaning to me,” she said.

Employee Spotlight: Karen Jones

Karen Jones, Traffic Controller at the Downtown Tunnel

As a traffic controller at the Downtown Tunnel, Karen Jones has worked a lot of crashes, disabled vehicles, and other mishaps. But even after a decade on the job, she said, every incident is different.
“There’s always something new,” the Norfolk resident said.
She’s seen a driver of a disabled vehicle get under the hood, fix the car, and continue driving. Another driver attempted to put gas into his stalled vehicle, but fortunately help was dispatched before anything went awry. She notes both activities are dangerous and not permitted in the tunnels.
The variety is part of why she loves her job. Another reason is the team of traffic controllers she works with, who Jones said “feel like family.”
Mainly, there’s the satisfaction that comes from providing a necessary public service.
“The most important part of my job is monitoring the traffic and keeping traffic moving,” Jones said. “You have to be real attentive and very observant. You have to make judgment calls and decisions. You have to be a multitasker. And you have to keep good documentation of everything going on.”
She began working in transportation at the former Norfolk-Virginia Beach Expressway in the late 1980s and moved to the tunnel after tolls were removed in 1995. Jones is among a team of former VDOT employees who now work for ERC.


ERC Gives Back

Help and Emergency Response (H.E.R.) Shelter, Inc. is one of several local agencies that ERC is honored to support through our charitable initiatives program. The H.E.R. Shelter works to save lives and build strong futures for the South Hampton Roads community through crisis programs and lifesaving initiatives, such as its 24-hour Hotline and Emergency Shelter for families fleeing domestic violence. The goal of the Portsmouth-based non-profit is to empower people to break the cycle of violence and to become (or remain) healthy, productive, caring individuals whose strong sense of self-worth is directly transmitted to their children.
This year, ERC is proud to support the H.E.R. Shelter’s new employment program Sweet Haven Baked Goods, a state licensed bakery from the kitchen of H.E.R. Shelter. The program trains survivors of domestic violence and homelessness in the areas of food handling, kitchen management, budgeting, baking, and cake decorating, giving them a competitive edge and a marketable skill.

The ERC team supports the H.E.R. Shelter’s new employment program, Sweet Haven Baked Goods.

To date, 13 women who’ve completed the program have gained employment and are now able to support themselves and their families.
Sweet Haven Baked Goods currently sells five flavors of cupcakes which are baked by trainees and sold to support the program: chocolate, chocolate-peanut butter, vanilla, strawberry cheesecake, key lime, and their fall seasonal flavor—pumpkin cheesecake. The sweet life can be had by all! One way you can help support H.E.R. Shelter and their employment program is by ordering Sweet Haven cupcakes. To place an order, call (757) 485-1445 or visit www.hershelter.com/#/sweet-haven. You can also learn more about H.E.R. Shelter services and volunteer opportunities by visiting www.hershelter.com.
For more information about ERC’s charitable giving initiatives, please visit www.DriveERT.com.

Connect With Us

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