Elizabeth River Crossing: News and Updates

Volume 3, Issue 4 | June 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

The Downtown Tunnel eastbound to Norfolk closure schedule is as follows:
  • Full direction weekend closures:
    • July 3-6: No closures scheduled. 
  • Single lane closures: Tuesday and Wednesday, June 30 and July 1 from 8 p.m. each night until 5 a.m. the following morning.
No closures scheduled for Downtown Tunnel westbound to Portsmouth.

US 58 Midtown Tunnel (Norfolk):
  • Tuesday-Thursday, June 30-July 2: Right lane closed exiting the US 58 East Midtown Tunnel from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Work will end at 12 p.m. on July 2.

  • I-264 West: Frederick Boulevard on-ramp closed Tuesday and Wednesday, June 30 and July 1 for overhead sign installation from  9 p.m. each night until 4 a.m. the following morning.
  • I-264 East: Right lane closed between Portsmouth Boulevard and Effingham Street Tuesday and Wednesday, June 30 and July 1 from 9 p.m. each night until 4 a.m. the following morning. 
  • Frederick Boulevard: 
    • Closed in both directions underneath the I-264 overpass Tuesday and Wednesday, June 30 and July 1 from 9 p.m. each night until 3 a.m. the following morning for crane relocation.
  • Columbus Avenue (North): Intermittent flagging operations from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays.
  • South Street: Intermittent flagging operations from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays.
  • High Street: A single-lane closure east and westbound through between Confederate and Constitution avenues.
  • Queen Street: Intermittent flagging operations from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Work will end Thursday, July 2 at 12 p.m.
To accommodate construction and future traffic on the MLK Extension, several ramps and roads have been permanently or temporarily closed.

Long-term temporary closures include: 
  • Frederick Boulevard, north and southbound left lanes closed beginning Monday, June 29 for pile driving and storm drainage construction.
  • I-264 East Frederick Boulevard off-ramp.
  • One lane on either side 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.
Visit the Travel Impacts page for more information.

Portsmouth’s Evolving Skyline

An aerial view of the MLK Extension in Portsmouth.

With the advancement of the Martin Luther King Freeway (MLK) Extension project, the Portsmouth skyline is changing.

The mile-long MLK Freeway Extension is almost entirely elevated in places more than 50 feet above sea level over railroads, interstate highways, city streets and neighborhoods. With it comes bridges, ramps, retaining walls, and sound walls—all reaching higher into the Portsmouth horizon. A decorative highlight along the new skyline will be a pair of 40-foot-tall brick obelisks at London Boulevard, alongside other aesthetic treatments from London Boulevard to Turnpike Road.

The project extends the MLK Freeway from London Boulevard to Interstate 264 (I-264). It’s elevated to provide swift traffic movement between the Midtown and Downtown tunnels without disrupting vehicle and pedestrian traffic on local streets or freight movement on the railways.

The project boasts 10 bridges including a replacement pedestrian bridge. The longest bridge is nearly 4,000 feet, with the longest span of 260 feet over the railroad and industrial area from Queen Street almost to I-264.

It has nine ramps—four interchanges with I-264, two at High Street, two at London Boulevard, one at Frederick Boulevard and the mainline. All existing ramps, with the exception of the Des Moines Avenue off-ramp and the South Street on-ramp, will remain.

Foundations of concrete are installed to hold up the future raised roadway.

Motorists traveling the area in recent months can’t miss the steel girders soaring over I-264 between the Effingham Street and Frederick Boulevard exits. The girders over the interstate started going up in January and the casting of the bridge deck is about to get underway.

Likewise, arching entrance and exit ramps are taking shape on either side of the interstate. Asphalt laying has started on one of the ramps.

Production pile driving to support all the elevated sections will wrap up by the middle of summer and sporadic pile driving will continue through the fall.

With highways and ramps come other structures—close to 14,000 linear feet of concrete barriers for road and earth embankments, nearly 47,000 square feet of noise walls and up to 140,000 square feet of Mechanically Stabilized Earth systems.

As construction progresses through the end of next year, keep your eye on the Portsmouth sky.

ERC Ready for Whatever Blows This Way

Crews conduct tide gate testing at the Midtown Tunnel in preparation for hurricane season.

Elizabeth River Crossings’ operations and maintenance teams are well prepared for the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season that officially began June 1.
In addition to being ready for named tropical systems, crews must also be prepared for smaller systems such as nor’easters and coastal storms as they can also impact travel with heavy rain, winds and high tides.
“Summertime afternoon and evening thunderstorms also impact travel on a daily basis,” said Operations Manager Ryan McLane. 

“These often fast-moving storms can occur right in the middle of the evening rush hour commute, producing heavy rains resulting in an increase in vehicle accidents and standing water—which overwhelm city storm water systems. When this occurs, oftentimes ERC crews respond to close interstate entrance and exit ramps to help assist the local cities.”
A significant amount of planning and preparation is required to effectively manage the tunnel facilities during weather events. Personnel safety and accountability are first and foremost. 

“We take that very seriously,” he said.
The readiness exercise that drivers are most familiar with is the tide gate testing at the Midtown Tunnel. The tunnel is closed in the early morning for a few hours to test the gate in April before the start of hurricane season. It’s tested again in November near the end of the season. The tide gate protects the tunnel from tidal surge flooding.
Some other highlights of how ERC prepares for hurricane season:
  • Employee readiness: Reviews of checklists and emergency operating procedures are conducted. Refresher training is offered for various pieces of equipment. If a threat is near, adjustments to employee schedules are made to adequately staff the facilities based on need.
  • Equipment readiness: In-house equipment including chainsaws, generators, and pumps are tested. Vendors and contractors are lined up early to provide equipment support with large items such as pumps, loaders, and vacuum trucks.
  • Facility readiness: Hazards are identified and removed or secured, such as construction barrels, temporary roadwork signs, and other lightweight facility equipment. Compromised trees are identified and removed to avoid becoming fall hazards during high winds. The vehicle fleet and fuel sites are topped off with fuel as well as spare fuel cans for generators. Logistical concerns (employee food/shelter) are prepared for in advance.
  • Routine and preventative maintenance: This includes drain cleaning, pump servicing, and storm water system maintenance.
Every day, ERC monitors the weather through various meteorological outlets focusing on tropical zones and forecasts that could eventually impact Hampton Roads.

Employee Spotlight: Diane Shields

When it comes to ensuring protocols are followed, building a concrete tunnel under the river for tens of thousands of vehicles is, in the simplest terms, not that much different than manufacturing industrial products.

“A process is a process; building a corrugated box applies the same quality requirements and standards as a tunnel, but on a completely different scale,” said Quality Assurance Manager Diane Shields, who came from a background mainly in large packaging manufacturing to Elizabeth River Crossings in January 2013 to support tunnel construction.

Shields is an expert in quality systems and process improvement. 

“There are so many moving parts of the project and so many different project areas—there’s coordination, facilitation, and collaboration within construction management,” she said. “I’m kind of an intermediary and liaison between all of them.” 

More specifically, she helps enhance work processes to make them more effective.

Shields’ responsibilities have grown to include quality assurance on the administrative side of the business as well. There, she audits and monitors internal processes to help resolve problems. A recent project was to improve alertness and situational awareness within the tunnel operations team.

ERC’s risk manager and general counsel Marina Liacouras said: “Diane is one of the most enthusiastic, loyal, passionate employees I've ever seen. She never shirks from responsibility; in fact, she seeks it out.”

Initially, she had to insert herself in situations, Liacouras said, but now people seek her out for guidance.

It’s not always been easy. 

“Sometimes free sprits fight process, but she knows how to corral the free spirits into forward motion,” Liacouras said.

As an added bonus, Shields appreciates taking part in something so significant for the region she started calling home eight years ago. Her husband’s family has been in Hampton Roads all their lives, so Shields lacked feeling the same depth of connection. 

“Now I’m part of something that’s going to be here for years and years and years to come—that’s going to part of this history,” she said.


ERC Gives Back

Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) continues to actively support area charities and organizations that are working to make a difference in Hampton Roads.

ERC partnered with the Urban League of Hampton Roads to help further their education mission by providing support to two education programs: NULITES and Project GEAR UP!

The National Urban League Incentives to Excel & Succeed (NULITES) is a nationwide youth initiative designed to reflect the positive aspects of youth in today’s society while providing opportunities for personal and leadership development. The NULITES program is comprised of high school students with a focus on leadership development and civic engagement. Project GEAR UP! is based at I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth and focuses on college and/or career preparation and includes a work experience component. The program’s goals include:
  • Assist students in learning more about career opportunities
  • Gain work preparedness skills 
  • Increase college awareness
To learn more about these and other programs offered by the Urban League of Hampton Roads, visit www.ulhr.org.

ERC also recently helped bring every child’s favorite, Clifford the Big Red Dog, to Hampton Roads by co-sponsoring the Clifford exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth with the City of Portsmouth. 

In addition, team ERC once again laced up their running shoes to support Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters’ 10th Anniversary RunWalk for the Kids as well as the American Cancer Society’s Portsmouth Relay for Life.

For more information on ERC’s Charitable Giving philosophy, visit www.DriveERT.com

Construction Updates

Midtown Tunnel Construction 
Portsmouth Approach

A look at the new Portsmouth Boat Section, tunnel exit and tunnel support building.

The Portsmouth Boat Section of the new Midtown Tunnel is almost finished; concrete work is complete and grading work progresses this month. Waterproofing of the Boat Section’s outer walls is complete. This month, the void between the walls and the steel support-of-excavation (SOE) wall were backfilled to within three feet of the top. Crews then cut and removed the tops of the steel walls and placed the final backfill.

Work on the Tunnel Support Building above the tunnel continues, with placement of the second floor interior block walls nearing completion and construction of the brick façade beginning soon. Crews are planning for electrical and mechanical equipment installation, which will provide power, communications and emergency water for the tunnel.

Norfolk Approach

Crews work inside the Norfolk Boat Section.

Work on the Norfolk Boat Section continues with the placement of an additional invert and three walls this month. Excavation is underway in preparation to continue concrete placement in the coming weeks.

Workers have completed installing the bulkhead that will close the western end of SOE in preparation for flooding the closure section of the cofferdam. The cofferdam is the sheet pile wall built to hold back the Elizabeth River while the excavation and concrete work was completed on the Cut-and-Cover and Boat Sections. Soon, crews will remove the sheet pile wall along the Elizabeth River and move Element 11 into position and the flooded area will be sealed off and pumped dry again.

Marine Work

Element 9 was placed last month, beginning the upward grade of the tunnel toward Norfolk. Elements 10 and 11 are scheduled to be placed next month. Before Element 10 can be placed, Element 11 has to be moved into the closure section on the Norfolk side of the Elizabeth River. After the cofferdam wall on the river side of the closure is removed, Element 11 will be moved into place inside the closure section and anchored in place to make room for the placement of Element 10.
Tunnel Interior Work

Electrical conduit and equipment in the egress corridor.

Crews are steadily outfitting the elements as they are placed. One of the critical parts is the immersion joint: the connection between the elements. The immersion joint work requires several steps to complete the connection between tunnel elements. The first step is placement of the Omega seals—the secondary seal at each joint.

Omega seals have been installed and tested in each of the first six immersion joints. The second step is the removal of the bulkheads—the waterproof barriers found at the end of each tunnel element. Sixteen bulkheads have been removed inside the Cut-and-Cover section down through Element 8. Next is the installation of cover plates over these seals to protect them from the concrete that will be poured in each immersion joint. The fourth step, which locks the two elements together, includes the placement of structural steel and concrete in the void between the elements and is the final structural connection. The first six joints are in various stages of this work. Two of the joints have been completed and an additional one will be completed this week.

Work that remains to outfit the tunnel in the coming months includes connecting the elements as noted above, fire protection board installation on the ceiling and walls, completing ballast concrete pours, topping slabs in the egress corridors and roadways and permanent electrical and mechanical equipment installation.

With so much work going on inside the tunnel, contractors are working through day and night. Electrical contractors are installing conduits and control panels in the egress corridor during the day and other workers are installing fire protection boards on the ceiling and walls of the elements at night. 

Tunnel Rehabilitation

Crews install fixtures inside the tunnel during nightly tunnel rehabilitation.

This month, the I-264 West Downtown Tunnel was milled and repaved. Work is currently underway to install new roadway signals at the Norfolk approach. Demolition of existing traffic control devices that have been replaced will begin soon.

At the I-264 East Downtown Tunnel, jet fan installation is in progress. Crews are removing the existing interior lighting in preparation for the new system and are installing new radio cable.

At the Midtown Tunnel, preliminary work for replacing and installing the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) for the new and existing Midtown Tunnels has begun. This system will mimic the one recently installed in the I-264 West Downtown Tunnel and will feature closed-circuit cameras with automated incident detection capability to expedite incident response, updated reversible lane use signals above the roadway, and new Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) inside the tunnel.


Connect With Us

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