VDOT to use tunnel boring machine for first time in Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion

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Updated Aug 11, 2018
VDOT says new technology has made tunneling through the soft soils under Hampton Roads harbor feasible. The agency plans to soon hire a contractor to bring in a tunnel-boring machine, similar to “Chessie” (above), being used for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel expansion project.VDOT says new technology has made tunneling through the soft soils under Hampton Roads harbor feasible. The agency plans to soon hire a contractor to bring in a tunnel-boring machine, similar to “Chessie” (above), being used for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel expansion project.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will take on the agency’s first bored tunnel for construction of the multi-billion-dollar Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project.

The project includes a new four-lane bridge-tunnel for eastbound travel beside the existing four-lane bridge-tunnel under the harbor between Hampton and Norfolk on Interstate 64. The current two-way tunnel will be converted to westward only lanes, providing a total of eight lanes of traffic.

VDOT announced that for the first time it will depart from previous tunneling methods across the Hampton Roads harbor and adopt the bored-tunnel method. The same method is being used in the state for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. That project’s boring machine, recently dubbed “Chessie,” will dig for one mile under the Chesapeake Bay to expand the current bridge-tunnel system. That project is overseen by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Commission.

VDOT said it chose the boring method because of advanced technology that has made tunneling under the riverbed feasible in the region’s soft soils. The agency has used an immersed-tube method for previous crossings dating back to 1952. That involves dredging a deep, mile-long trench across the harbor and placing sections of the tunnel. The tunnel-boring method will have less effect on marine life and on commercial and military shipping operations in the harbor than the immersed-tube approach, VDOT says.

See videos of the two tunneling methods below:

The agency’s decision follows notification from the competing contractor teams – Hampton Roads Capacity Constructors and Hampton Roads Connector Partners – that they plan to use the method as the basis for their bid proposals, which are scheduled to be submitted later this year.

VDOT expects to award the construction contract early next year for the project, which is estimated to cost upward of $3.3 billion and be completed in 2024.

“The selection of a bored tunnel means Hampton Roads will see some of the world’s most sophisticated tunnel technology at work,” said VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich. “Once complete, this new crossing will greatly improve accessibility, transit, emergency evacuation, and military and goods movement along the I-64 corridor.”

This map shows the proposed route of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project.This map shows the proposed route of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project.