Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel

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Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel
Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.jpg
Coordinates 36°59′14″N 76°18′20″W / 36.987197°N 76.305542°W / 36.987197; -76.305542Coordinates: 36°59′14″N 76°18′20″W / 36.987197°N 76.305542°W / 36.987197; -76.305542
Carries 4 lanes of I‑64 / US 60
Crosses Hampton Roads
Locale Norfolk, Virginia to Hampton, Virginia
Maintained by Virginia Department of Transportation
Design Composite: Low-level Trestle, Parallel single-tube Tunnels, Manmade islands
Total length 3.5 miles (5.6 km)
Clearance above 14'6"/4.42m (eastbound)
13'6"/4.11m (westbound)
Opened November 1, 1957; 59 years ago (1957-11-01) (westbound)
November 1, 1976; 40 years ago (1976-11-01) (eastbound)
Map of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and vicinity

The Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel (HRBT) is a 3.5-mile (5.6 km)-long Hampton Roads crossing for Interstate 64 and U.S. Route 60. It is a four-lane facility comprising bridges, trestles, man-made islands, and tunnels under the main shipping channels for Hampton Roads harbor in the southeastern portion of Virginia in the United States.

It connects the historic Phoebus area of the independent city of Hampton near Fort Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula with Willoughby Spit in the city of Norfolk in South Hampton Roads, and is part of the Hampton Roads Beltway.

History & Design[edit]

Prior to the opening of the HRBT (and well before even the HRBT's counterpart the Monitor–Merrimac Memorial Bridge–Tunnel), VDOT operated ferries to carry vehicle traffic across the harbor from the Southside to the Peninsula. There were two routes: one from Hampton Boulevard near Naval Station Norfolk to downtown Newport News, and a second, less popular route from Willoughby Spit to Fort Monroe in Hampton. Traffic at the time was typically about 2500 vehicles per day.[1] The original two-lane structure opened November 1, 1957 at a cost of $44 million as a toll facility. As population and traffic grew, construction on a parallel bridge-tunnel facility began in 1972. The construction of the $95 million second portion of the HRBT was funded as part of the Interstate Highway System as authorized under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, as a portion of I-64, which means that it was funded with 90% FHWA funds from the Highway Trust Fund and 10% state DOT funds. The second span opened on November 1, 1976 as a toll-free roadway.


The HRBT has two 12-foot (3.7 m)-wide lanes each way, on separately built bridge–tunnel structures. The bridge–tunnel was originally signed as State Route 168 and U.S. Route 60. It later received the Interstate 64 designation when the second span opened in 1976, and, much later, SR 168 was truncated south of the crossing

Part of the design features of the HRBT involved the use of man-made islands for the tunnel portals at the place where Hampton Roads flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel south portal island connects to about 20 acres (8 ha) of land that is the site of Fort Wool, a fort during the American Civil War, World War I and World War II, and a public park since 1970. Fort Wool is on a man-made island known as Rip Raps, created in 1818. There is a small earthen causeway that connects Fort Wool to the HRBT south portal island.ncluding the island across the navigational channel of the mouth of Hampton Roads from Old Point Comfort was created for Fort Calhoun (a portion of the Fort Monroe complex later renamed Fort Wool).

Modern Day[edit]

Approaching the westbound tunnel portal

Given its proximity to the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet home base at Naval Station Norfolk, many nearby shipyards and critical port facilities, the HRBT design incorporates a tunnel instead of a more cost effective drawbridge. A bridge–tunnel, if destroyed in wartime or due to natural disaster, would not block the vital shipping channels.

Another four-lane facility, the Monitor–Merrimac Memorial Bridge–Tunnel (MMMBT) was completed in 1992. The MMMBT provided a second bridge–tunnel crossing of the Hampton Roads harbor, supplementing the Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel and providing some traffic relief. The MMMBT also forms part of the Hampton Roads Beltway, and is also toll-free.

Over height Vehicles[edit]

The current westbound tunnel from Norfolk to Hampton is the original tunnel constructed in 1957 and has a lower clearance than the newer eastbound tube built in the 1970s—13 ft 6 in (4.11 m) as opposed to 14 ft 6 in (4.42 m). Because of this, special over-height detectors have been installed near the Willoughby Spit end of the bridge. If a truck makes it beyond this inspection point and trips the over height sensor, the truck will be alerted and flagged to stop prior to the entrance to the tunnel, where with a fine of up to $2,500 if the over height occurs during rush hour. This is because any vehicle turnaround at the tunnel requires a full-stoppage of traffic in both directions in order to redirect the affected vehicle from one side of the bridge to the other.[2][3] VDOT currently has identified new systems to improve the overheight detection system, by detecting vehicles well in advance of the tunnel to cut down on the over heights approaching the tunnel, This project is estimated to cost the state $900,000.

July 2009 flood[edit]

In July 2009, the westbound tube partially flooded after a thunderstorm hit the Hampton Roads region. The flooding was caused by a failed water main, which burst and led a chamber below the tunnel roadway to fill with millions of gallons of water. Pumps designed to remove water from the chamber were overwhelmed, and water began to puddle on the roadway, forcing VDOT to close the tunnel for nearly seven hours during midday on July 2, 2009.[4]

This closure forced hundreds of thousands of commuters, tourists, as well as Hampton Roads residents heading westbound for the Fourth of July holiday, to divert and go through the MMMBT or the James River Bridge, the only alternate routes to get to the Peninsula. The MMMBT had troubles of its own during the afternoon, as a pileup shut down the northbound lanes, closing the tunnel and causing a 20-mile (32 km) traffic jam[5] along I-664. The James River Bridge was also closed on July 2 because of downed wires from the storm.[6] The series of events involving all three water crossings led to a "perfect storm" of traffic which led to gridlock throughout all major arteries of Hampton Roads.

The flooding of the Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel caused widespread concern about evacuation capabilities of the region during the approach of a hurricane, as the HRBT, MMMBT and the James River Bridge serve as the primary hurricane evacuation routes for residents of Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Chesapeake.[5]

July 2016 Vehicle Crash & Fire[edit]

At 7:30pm EST on July 16, a two car collision between a Volkswagen Passat and an Acura occurred three-quarters of the way inside the eastbound tunnel, which travels from Hampton to Norfolk. The Acura was rear ended by the Passat which in turn caused both vehicles to burst into flames and fill the tunnel with smoke, leaving 35 vehicles stuck inside the tunnel behind the scene. Because neither of the tunnels have escape walkways, 80 drivers and passengers were required to walk out of the tunnel through the smoke, leaving their vehicles behind. Fifteen people were treated on the scene for smoke inhalation, while four others were taken to the hospital. The fires caused moderate to major damage to the walls of the tunnel, which VDOT will repair through nightly road work at the tunnel.[7]

The crash shut down of traffic in both directions for four hours, finally reopening westbound at 11pm, and reopening eastbound at 11:45pm.[8] The driver of the Passat was cited with following too closely by Virginia State Police.[7]


Studies into the growing traffic at the HRBT have roots back to the early 1990s. In 1992, the Virginia General Assembly had requested that VDOT study growing traffic at the HRBT. The conclusion of that study determined that a long-term large-scale solution to the problem would be required to alleviate backups. The following year, VDOT began the initial studies into that long-term solution, beginning the first Hampton Roads Crossing Study. This study, published in 1999, and finalized in 2001, did not however, make any expansions to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in any capacity, instead opting to select a new four lane bridge from I-564 to I-664 and VA 164 in Portsmouth, an option which became known as Candidate Build (CB) 9.[9] With the selection of CB 9 as the preferred alternatives, local and state officials still needed to pursue alternative plans to increase capacity at the HRBT, since the selected project would not add any lanes directly to the I-64 mainline. According to VDOT, in 1958, an average of 6,000 vehicles a day used the facility whereas an average of 88,000 vehicles a day were using the crossing in 2008, with volumes exceeding 100,000 during the tourist season, well exceeding the original design capacity of 77,000 vehicles per day.[10] Some critics of that plan are concerned that the plan may provide little relief to the HRBT. However, as the HRBT has longer tunnel sections, adding additional capacity with new tube(s) would be more costly than many alternatives. Possible solutions suggested to relieve the HRBT include variable tolls to be highest during peak periods, to encourage motorists to select alternate routes or times of day. Enhanced mass transit services (such as restoring inter-city rail service to Petersburg and the Interstate 95 corridor) may also provide more affordable relief.

In 2008, VDOT undertook a new study with the sole purpose of identifying expansion projects for the HRBT that would met the goals for congestion reduction while remaining environmentally and financially feasible alone[11] The project identified six project alternatives ranging from adding two additional lanes of bridge-tunnel capacity to provide a contiguous, six-lane facility to adding four additional lanes of bridge-tunnel capacity for a total of eight-lanes, with two lanes designated as multi-modal lanes. Of the six projects, only three would have resulted in improving the roadway to an acceptable FHWA LOS,with costs for these three ranging from $3.14bm for the four lane bridge to $3.27 for billion for the four lane bridge tunnel..

Public-Private Partnership Attempts[edit]

In early 2010, Virginia Delegate Glenn Oder, a Republican representing the 94th district, which covers Newport News, sponsored House Bill 402 in the House of Delegates that required VDOT to accept and review unsolicited proposals for a potential public–private partnership (PPP) at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. The bill was controversial in the sense that it required VDOT to not only accept and review the unsolicited proposals, but to recommend that "no more than two" of the projects be advanced to the CTB and ultimately to the Transportation Commissioner by March 2011.[12] This bill also followed the emergence of several other regional projects such as the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project as well as the U.S. Route 460 expansion project were being negotiated under Virginia's PPTA law. However, then studies of the project did not contain a component relying on a PPP for construction. Nonetheless, the bill passed the House and Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Bob McDonnell on March 11, 2010. VDOT received two proposals: one from Hampton Roads Crossings LLC. a consortium of the multinational companies of Skanska (both the investment construction/civil engineering subsidiaries), Kiewit and Parsons Brinkerhoff, and another from Hampton Roads Mobility Group, made up of Grupo ACS, Dragados and Flatiron Construction,[13] Skanska, the company providing majority of the investment for the consortium was at the time also in negotiations to participate as the financial backer for the Elizabeth River Tunnels project (a bid which they won and currently hold the concession rights to) and the engineering firm for the now defunct Route 460 "Commonwealth Connector" project.[14]

HRC's proposed $3.5 - $4.5 billion proposal would have widened the HRBT to four lanes in each direction, as well as "improve" the MMMBT and the James River Bridge. In concession, the company would then assume operational control of the MMMBT and the JRB, and place tolls on all three crossings at a "worst case scenario" rate of $4 - $6.[15] HRMG proposed to build a new HOT "express" lanes from the I-664 interchange to I-564 in Norfolk. In addition, they would build a new, four lane facility that would carry two lanes of traffic as general purpose lanes, with the other two new lanes carrying "express" traffic. The existing tunnels would also do the same—one existing tunnel would carry general purpose traffic, while the other tube would carry express traffic[16]p3. While tolling would be variable in the express lanes based on congestion, the HRMG plan requires all lanes at the HRBT to be tolled at a rate of $1 - $2.

VDOT eventually recommended to the CTB to not advance either proposal to the next phase, with the P3 portion being cancelled outright in 2013 after the advancement of tax increases through the General Assembly which provided additional money to the Hampton Roads Region through the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund.

2012 Expansion Draft EIS[edit]

In December 2012, VDOT and the FHWA finalized the Draft EIS for the I-64/HRBT projects. The study specifically designed to improve traffic flow at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, including infrastructure upgrades and widening on the I-64 mainline between from the I-664 interchange in Hampton to the I-564 in Norfolk. This study was commissioned to select build options candidates based on the outcome of the 2008 Expansion Feasibility Study. The EIS officially listed project candidates: the Build-8 Alternative, the Build-8 Managed Alternative and the Build-10 Alternative.

  • The Build-8 Alternative would provide four continuous mainline lanes in each direction of I-64 from the I-664 interchange in Hampton to the I-564 interchange in Norfolk. including a new four lane eastbound tube.
  • The Build-8 Managed Alternative would do the same as the Build-8 Alternative, however, the some of the lanes would be managed using either high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes.
  • The Build-10 Alternative would provide five continuous mainline lanes in the same area as the previous two. This would require the widening of the Norfolk side of the with three additional lanes per direction. It would also build a new, 5 lane tunnel that would split the five lanes of traffic up as follows: four lanes of westbound traffic would use the existing tunnel, plus one lane of the new tunnel, and five lanes of eastbound traffic would be split into a 3/2 configuration. Estimates for the project brought the potential costs to between $4.4 to $6.7 billion.[17]

Post 2012: Reintegrated with Hampton Roads Crossing Study.[edit]

The project never, however gained a Final EIS or Record of Decision from the FHWA, as the project never received funding for it to proceed. However, improvements to I-64 and the HRBT are now being considered as part of the 2016 Hampton Roads Crossing Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) as Candidate Alternative A.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is expected to be briefed in the Fall of 2016, and a final EIS is expected in the spring of 2017.[18] There is no current timeline for construction, however project sheets released by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization hope for an estimated completion to be in 2028.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel". www.roadstothefuture.com. Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  2. ^ Press, Daily. "Bill: Oversized truck owners would be fined for using westbound HRBT". Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  3. ^ Ballesteros, Stephanie (2015-06-29). "Change to law could ease HRBT congestion". WAVY-TV. Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  4. ^ "Break in 52-year-old pipe caused HRBT mess, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, VA". The Virginian-Pilot. PilotOnline.com. July 11, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  5. ^ a b "Motorists Stew, Officials Angered by Gridlock Debacle Debbie Messina,Harry Minium, The Virginian-Pilot". Hamptonroads.com. Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  6. ^ Holtzclaw, Mike (2009-07-02). "Storm's aftermath snarls Hampton Roads, Daily Press, Newport News, VA". Dailypress.com. Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  7. ^ a b "Driver charged after car crash causes fire at HRBT". WTKR.com. 2016-07-17. Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  8. ^ TEGNA. "Four people taken to hospital following car fire in HRBT". Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  9. ^ Hampton Roads Crossing Study DEIS (PDF) (Report). Virginia Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration. 20 October 1999. Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  10. ^ "Hampton Roads Tunnels and Bridges". Virginiadot.org. Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  11. ^ "Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion Feasibility Study" (PDF). 19 December 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2016. 
  12. ^ "2010 Uncodified Act - Chapter 126". law.lis.virginia.gov. Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  13. ^ "Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel Concept Scenarios" (PDF). Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. 19 November 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2016. 
  14. ^ "US Route 460 Corridor Improvement Project" (PDF). 460 Partners LLC. 
  15. ^ Messina, Debbie. "VDOT accepts proposal to expand HRBT". Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  16. ^ "Conceptual Proposal" (PDF). Hampton Roads Mobility Group. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2016. 
  17. ^ "HRTPO Board Meeting Agenda" (PDF). Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. 21 March 2013. Retrieved 26 August 2016. 
  18. ^ "Hampton Roads Crossing Study - FAQs". hamptonroadscrossingstudy.org. Retrieved 2016-08-26. 
  19. ^ Hampton Roads Crossing Study Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS) (Report). Virginia Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration. 25 July 2016. Retrieved 26 August 2016. 

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