Tunnel Rehabilitation Updates
Activity surrounded installing fireproofing board (Promat) on the tunnel ceilings, which will protect the tunnel structure from heat in the event of a fire. Fireproofing installation starts at the Norfolk entrance of the tunnel and moves west toward the Portsmouth side. Work also included repairing damaged concrete on the ceilings and walls, and rerouting electrical lines from the walkway to overhead conduits to power new lighting and jet fans for ventilation.
In those first closures, crews removed old police booths, handrails and walkway access ladders while electrical contractors relocated conduit from the ceiling of the tunnel and installed temporary power for tunnel lighting and tunnel cameras. Contractors also began repairing cracks in the ceiling and removing ceiling conduit to prepare for the Promat fireproofing which will be installed in the coming months. Jet fan installation contractors also performed laser surveys for placement of the jet fans on the tunnel ceiling.
To view recent photos of rehabilitation work on the I-264 West Downtown Tunnel, visit DriveERT on Flickr.
Tunnel Rehabilitation FAQs
Tunnel rehabilitation will take place in the westbound Downtown Tunnel from July 2012 through late spring 2014. The tunnel will close nightly at 8p.m. Rehabilitation of the eastbound Downtown Tunnel will begin in June 2014 and continue through summer 2015. Forty-two (42) weekend closures are scheduled for the eastbound tunnel.
In 1987, the westbound Downtown Tunnel was completely closed for approximately six months for tunnel rehabilitation. ERC has significantly reduced the amount of time needed to safely perform this work in order to minimize impacts to commuters and businesses. It will take many nightly closures to complete the work. If we can complete the work sooner, we certainly will. The Elizabeth River Tunnels Project team is putting forth every effort to deliver the Project ahead of schedule.
Aging tunnels (the westbound Downtown Tunnel is 61 years old) need major updates from time to time to remain in service. Rehabilitation of the existing Downtown and Midtown tunnels is dictated by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requirements to meet current safety standards, including National Fire Protection Association Code 502 (NFPA 502). The tunnels are also being upgraded to operate efficiently for the 58-year concession period and meet the Commonwealth’s handback requirements at the end of the term, per the Comprehensive Agreement (see Technical Requirements, 1.15.19). This work will lengthen service life, improve safety, enhance user experience and upgrade the systems that support the operations.
This work is a necessity for basic public safety and preservation of these critical tunnel facilities, and would be needed whether the tunnels are tolled or not.
Complete nightly closures allow crews to get work done in a more efficient manner, allowing for more actual work to take place per closure. As the complexity of work being performed increases (installation of fireproofing and jet fans, for example), more time will be required for installation, clean-up and inspection before the tunnel can reopen to the public. Full, uninterrupted nightly closures allow the time necessary for the work.
From a safety standpoint, much of the work taking place is overhead and crosses the centerline of traffic. A complete tunnel closure is necessary for the safety of motorists and workers.
The decision to keep all lanes of the eastbound Downtown Tunnel traffic moving in one direction and reroute all westbound traffic to the High Rise Bridge alternate route was not made without first completing a thorough traffic analysis and reviewing past precedent. The results of the traffic analysis were conclusive: the closure scenario with the least impact to the traveling public is the current alternative discussed above. Bi-directional traffic was considered very carefully, but ultimately it would cause more congestion and lengthy delays both eastbound and westbound through the Downtown Tunnel. Therefore, trips across the river would take additional time (likely up to an hour during peak times) in BOTH directions. This would discourage motorists even further. As it is, the public can plan an extra 30 minutes or so to travel westbound, with no delays traveling eastbound.
ERC and SKW (our design-build contractor) worked collaboratively with VDOT and the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) and kept the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake informed on all aspects of the closure including traffic, safety, operations and public communications.
In addition to the fact it would actually result in more backups and congestion, the bi-directional approach is not optimal for a few other reasons, with safety being the primary concern:
- The truck over-height detection system does not support bi-directional travel through the eastbound tunnel. Just one over height truck entering the tunnel could potentially stop traffic in both directions (since they would be using the same tube) for a significant amount of time.
- Bi-directional traffic in the eastbound tunnel would make it difficult for crews to efficiently and effectively respond to incidents, and it would also significantly reduce the staging area for first responders and wreckers, which would negatively impact the amount of time needed to respond to incidents in the tunnel.
- Constantly switching traffic patterns (5 days/week one way and 2 days/week bi-directional) could create driver confusion and increase risk of traffic accidents, particularly when slowing traffic down from highway speeds on I-264 to merge onto the opposite side of the road.
- With the way the tunnels are configured, motorists traveling westbound through a bi-directional tunnel would not be able to access the Effingham exit and therefore, would not have direct access to Downtown Portsmouth.
While there have been two times in recent history where the tunnel was operated bi-directionally, there were extenuating circumstances and much different traffic conditions:
- The last time the westbound Downtown Tunnel underwent rehabilitation was in 1987 and the eastbound Downtown Tunnel was bi-directional. The difference is that the tunnel was closed for six (6) straight months for that work, and not just nightly. Also, the volume of traffic using the Downtown Tunnel at the time was less than half of what it is today (similar to today’s Midtown Tunnel traffic). Running traffic bi-directionally today would be the equivalent of attempting to put two days’ worth of Midtown tunnel traffic through the Downtown Tunnel with one lane in each direction.
- In 2003, following Hurricane Isabel, the westbound Downtown Tunnel operated bi-directionally for one (1) day. That was because both the Midtown Tunnel and the eastbound Downtown Tunnel were flooded and there was no Jordan Bridge. Thus, there was no capacity at the Midtown or the eastbound Downtown Tunnel.
We empathize with the businesses that are impacted by any construction activity. This work is important to expand the life of the facility and benefit the surrounding communities. We are working diligently to complete the required rehabilitation work in a safe, expedient manner with as little negative impact to the surrounding communities as possible.
The lower court ruling had no impact on construction of the project, or the construction schedule for the Project. Elizabeth River Crossings remains committed to delivering the Project consistent with our agreement with VDOT and the Commonwealth of Virginia in accordance with the terms of the circuit court order.
- Familiarize themselves with the alternate routes ahead of time and allow extra time to reach their destinations.
- Use the four alternate routes available
- I-64 High Rise Bridge
- Route 58 Midtown Tunnel
- Jordan Bridge – tolled
- Gilmerton Bridge
Motorists are also encouraged to check the DriveERT website for the latest information on closures and work activities, call 511 for congestion information and follow us on Twitter or VDOT’s Facebook page.
- VDOT’s Transportation Operations Center will continue to monitor traffic impacts and suggested detour routes and will adjust messaging as needed throughout the closure.
- A detailed Maintenance of Traffic plan was developed to include detour signs along the primary detour routes.
- A message has been implemented on VDOT alert systems for each weekend closure, starting before the closure occurs.
- Other alternate routes publicized through the media outreach efforts are not signed as alternate routes.
- The message will run on:
- 511 phone system
- 511 smart phone app
- HAR 1680 AM, broadcast in Hampton Roads
- The 1-800-FOR-ROAD Customer Service line