Elizabeth River Tunnels: News and Updates
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Volume 2, Issue 3 | March 2014
Elizabeth River Crossings: News and Updates

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

Tunnel Float Out

Our tunnel builders will become keen weather watchers come June when they seek out several ideal 60-hour windows to tow completed tunnel elements 200 miles down the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore to their new home in the Elizabeth River.
Wind speeds. Wave action. Tides.
These conditions need to be just right to transport six tubes consisting of 15,000 tons of concrete and steel that will be ready for installation as part of the new parallel Midtown Tunnel.

  A birdseye view of the tunnel elements at Sparrows Point.

“That’s because there are no safe harbors deep enough along the route that can provide shelter,” said ERC’s Gary Webb, Midtown Tunnel Project Manager. “Once they’re underway they are committed to finishing the trip.”
Fabrication of six tunnel elements is nearly complete in dry dock at Sparrows Point in Baltimore. They need to be moved out and towed to Virginia so placement of the elements can begin and fabrication of the remaining five elements can get underway.
In preparation for the trip, each element is being outfitted with bulkheads on each end, sealing them off and making them buoyant.  The tunnel elements will also be equipped with access hatches, navigation lights, survey towers with GPS, and fenders to protect the elements during transport and mooring.
Webb expects the float out will begin in June and the tow to the project site will begin as soon they have clear weather.
In preparation for the float out, temporary ballast tanks in each tube will be filled with a prescribed amount of water to stabilize each element. Once the dry dock is flooded, two to three feet of the 30 foot-tall tunnels will remain exposed above the water line.  The tunnel elements will remain in the dry dock to allow for inspection of the elements for any issues prior to floating them out.
After the gate is opened, each element will be floated out of its berth guided by tugboats to nearby temporary moorings. They will stay there just long enough to ensure there are no leaks or imbalances for the long journey. Webb has stated the prep work will take a couple of weeks.
When weather conditions permit, each element will be towed separately by 4,100-horsepower tugboats aided by an assist tug in the event alignments need to be adjusted along the trip. It’s not known yet how many tunnel segments will be moved at one time. Webb said much depends on tug availability.
The 200 mile journey at a speed of 3 knots is expected to take 60 hours. 
“We’re going to take as long as we need to get them down here safely,” Webb said.
Each tunnel element will be accompanied by a shadow boat manned by tunnel builders in the event adjustments need to be made to the tubes along the way such as rebalancing water in the ballast tanks.
Once they arrive in Hampton Roads, installation begins. Each tunnel element requires about a month to be set in place. Meanwhile, the other tunnel elements will be moored nearby as the tubes are sequenced.


Travel Impacts

I-264 West Downtown Tunnel Rehabilitation
The Project team has canceled the rehabilitation-related closure of the Interstate 264 (I-264) West Downtown Tunnel scheduled for today, March 28 and Saturday, March 29 due to material delays and anticipated inclement weather patterns. 
Full overnight closures westbound will resume on Friday, April 4 and Saturday, April 5 from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next morning. Motorists should also expect full overnight closures on Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12. 

The eastbound tunnel is not affected and will remain open to vehicular traffic. Work will continue westbound through summer 2014, with the exception of holiday and designated event weekends.
South Street Ramp Permanent Closure
The Project team will permanently close the South St. on-ramp to Interstate 264 (I-264) West as early as mid-April in coordination with construction activities on the Martin Luther King (MLK) Extension.
Motorists currently using the South St. on-ramp to access I-264 West will be permanently rerouted to the Effingham St. on-ramp to I-264 West.

For more information, visit the Travel Impacts page.

Construction Updates

Portsmouth and Norfolk Approaches
At the Portsmouth approach, concrete placement continues in the cut-and-cover section. Crews at the Norfolk approach continue to drive the remaining 18-inch piles and reconfigure utilities in Norfolk. Contractors also installed waterlines near the Elizabeth River Trail.
Marine Work
In anticipation of placing the tunnel elements, fabrication and assembly of the screed barge has begun. The screed barge is used to position and level bedding gravel on the bottom of the trench. The placing barge, or structure used to place the tunnel elements along the trench, is at the Project site while crews begin to prepare it for the float out this summer. For a visual of the screed barge and placing barge, view our Project video.
Additionally, dredging activities are 76 percent complete with over 704,000 cubic yards of material removed to date.
MLK Extension
Construction activities on the MLK Extension are progressing as scheduled.
The pedestrian bridge over I-264 near Frederick Blvd. was removed on March 10. Crews shut down the interstate for several hours overnight to remove the existing structure. Contractors installed detour signage and built new sidewalks to guide pedestrians around the construction activities. The pedestrian bridge removal provides crews access to widen the interstate in anticipation of the new MLK Extension. Permanent sidewalk improvements were made to facilitate the pedestrian detour. A new bridge over I-264 is scheduled for installation by the end of 2014. 

  Crews removed the pedestrian bridge over I-264 in Portsmouth overnight on March 10.

See additional pictures of the removal on Flickr. View a video of the removal on our YouTube channel.
Crews also completed the installation of the 20-inch waterline adjacent to the construction area near Columbus Ave.
For more information regarding construction activities on the MLK Extension, visit the Travel Impacts page or MLK Extension page at DriveERT.com.
Tunnel Rehabilitation: I-264 West Downtown Tunnel
Crews continue to make progress on rehabilitating the I-264 West Downtown Tunnel. This month, contractors made significant progress on removing the old lighting system with the installation of over 2,400 linear feet of the new LED lighting on the left tunnel wall. Conduit installation is still in progress as crews feed conduit through the tunnel wall support brackets (the black structures on the left tunnel wall in the picture below). Work also continues on concrete repairs to the barriers and electrical distribution and modifications.

As mentioned in Travel Impacts, full westbound tunnel closures will resume tonight, March 28 and tomorrow, March 29 at 8 pm until 8 am each day. The nightly closure schedule will resume on Friday, April 4.
For more information about tunnel rehabilitation, including current closures and answers to frequently asked questions, visit the Rehabilitation page.


Protecting the Environment

There’s not much Carissa Agnese can’t find a second life for. Construction waste. Office trash. Even dirt.
SKW’s environmental manager said the project is recycling or reusing 99 percent of all material at project locations here in Hampton Roads as well as at Sparrows Point in Maryland where the tunnel is being fabricated.
“We track everything that leaves these sites,” Agnese said.
Recycling and reusing is one piece of an expansive environmental program. The program is so extensive that SKW was encouraged by state officials to apply to the highest level of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Virginia Environmental Excellence Program. The award recognizes going beyond normal compliance. If awarded, it would be the first construction project granted this status.
“A key focus of the overall environmental program is the marine environment, specifically protecting wetlands and oyster beds and responsibly handling dredge material,” Agnese said.
Turbidity curtains were installed around the Virginia Port Authority’s oyster reef in the Elizabeth River.
Wetland areas were roped off to protect environmentally sensitive plants. At the project’s end, SKW will replant about 100 feet of vegetation that was not thriving near the Virginia Port Authority property.
Contaminated soil classified as hazardous due to lead has been treated and hauled off.
The soil was treated in ground to bind the lead and sent off for use as bank stabilization at one of SPSA’s landfills. Uncontaminated dredge material is being disposed of at an approved ocean disposal site offshore.
Other environmental stewardship efforts include:
  • Use of an aerosol can puncturing system. The puncture drains cans of hazardous waste into holding drums so they can be recycled for scrap metal while just the drum is disposed of as hazardous material.
  • A self-contained system for washing concrete chutes that reuses the wash water thereby reducing water use and concrete waste.
  • Application to become part of the Elizabeth River Project’s River Star business program.
  • Participation in the annual Clean the Bay Day.
*On March 21, SKW was awarded a Gold Standing in the Virginia Port Authority’s Operation Green program.

Employee Spotlight: Sherman Barnslater

Sherman Barnslater says the hours were long, but rewarding.
Barnslater is on ERC’s team of dedicated maintenance crew members who made their way to work when everyone was hiding inside from the wintry weather in order to keep the Downtown and Midtown tunnels and their approaches free of snow and ice during back-to-back winter storms.
“Somebody’s got to get to there to make sure the roads are safe for everyone else,” said the 51-year-old Portsmouth resident. “It feels good when everything is clear and traffic is going through.”
Barnslater has been with ERC since the first day the tunnel maintenance was turned over in the summer of 2012.
When they’re not clearing snow and treating ice, Barnslater and the maintenance team are patching potholes, mowing grass, picking up litter, and performing general upkeep.
“I love to make sure everything is beautiful and safe for the public when they come through the tunnel,” Barnslater said.
Jimmy Eanes, ERC maintenance supervisor, said the crew was “awesome,” working 12- to 14-hour shifts during winter storm events.
“The overall turnaround from when the snow event stops and the roadway is clear is a big deal,” he said.


On the Job Training

Last year about this time, James Barham never dreamed of a career change. But he was laid off from the job he held for four years as a pipe fitter at a local shipyard and needed work. He connected with Elizabeth River Tunnel’s On-The-Job (OTJ) Training Program, and so began a mutually enriching relationship.

“I wish I could find more like James,” said Vincent Powell, DBE compliance manager for SKW Constructors and manager of the OJT Training Program. “He’s real enthusiastic and dedicated.”

Barham completed training in December as a pile driver, a profession his father worked in for Tidewater Construction (a predecessor of Skanska).

He now works in the marine division as part of a team that drives pilings from a barge on the Elizabeth River for the tunnel approaches. Working on the water initially was difficult for landlubber Barham. “It’s a piece of cake now,” he said.

“I’m open to learning new stuff,” Barham said. “I want to make a long, strong work history.”

A Portsmouth resident, 32-year-old Barham enjoys the short commute to work and the pride of working on the region’s biggest infrastructure project.

“It’s great to have this tunnel project - we need more bridges and tunnels to get around,” he said.

Barham is among 31 local residents in the program.That number will eventually swell to 70 including carpenters, mechanics, pipe layers, truck drivers, electricians, concrete finishers, and power tool operators. 

“We’re helping build the workforce in the area,” Powell said.
While trainees learn a trade in a rigorous program, they are paid an escalating salary and benefits as they advance, eventually earning full compensation and full-time work.
“As long as we have employment for them, they’ll be with us.” Powell said.
As of early-March, nine program graduates have completed 6480 hours of training.
Said Powell: “Our goal is to take someone who is unskilled, teach them a trade, then continue on working with Skanska, Kiewit, or Weeks as a viable employee.”

For inquiries regarding the OJT Training Program, contact vincent.powell@skanska.com.

Connect With Us

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

To report an incident or maintenance issue at the Elizabeth River Tunnels, call our 24-hour hotline at 1-855-ERT-ROAD (1-855-378-7623). 
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