The Downtown Tunnel on Interstate 264 crosses the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River in the South Hampton Roads area. It links the independent City of Portsmouth with the independent City of Norfolk. In conjunction with the Berkley Bridge, the Downtown Tunnel connects to Interstate 464 to the City of Chesapeake and a continuation I-264 to the downtown and Waterside areas of Norfolk, and on to Virginia Beach. It is a toll-free facility and is owned and operated by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
The two-lane Downtown Tunnel replaced an automobile ferry system, and, in conjunction with the Berkley Bridge (as part of the Norfolk-Portsmouth Bridge-Tunnel project), was the first fixed crossing directly between Portsmouth and Norfolk across the Elizabeth River. It was financed and built by the Elizabeth River Tunnel Commission with toll revenue bonds and was completed in 1952. The ferries continued in operation until 1955, serving the passenger traffic unserved by the tunnel.
1989: 4 lanes and I-264
In 1988 and 1989, during an expansion of I-264, the Downtown Tunnel and the Berkley Bridge were rebuilt and expanded. Tolls were also removed. The interchange with I-464 at the eastern end of the tunnel at the Berkley Bridge was added in 1991.
- "Anytime you build a complex interchange in a downtown metropolitan area with an underwater tunnel and a bridge with a liftspan for river traffic, you have a real challenge. Nowhere else in Virginia can you come out of a tunnel and cross a drawbridge."