Frequently Asked Questions
About the Project
What are the parts of the Project?
- A new two-lane tunnel under the Elizabeth River adjacent to the existing Midtown Tunnel, doubling the capacity of the tunnel.
- Extension of the Martin Luther King (MLK) Freeway from London Boulevard to Interstate 264 (I-264), with an interchange at High Street, creating an efficient, connected transportation network.
- Rehabilitation of and safety improvements to the existing Midtown and Downtown Tunnels.
- Modifications to the interchange at Brambleton Avenue/Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk.
What are the Project benefits?
- Regional economic development at estimates of $170-$254 million according to an econometric review of the Project.
- Improved safety with elimination of bi-directional traffic in existing Midtown Tunnel.
- Reduced congestion and travel time.
- Reduced idle time, fuel savings and lower emissions.
- Increased travel options providing greater regional accessibility.
- Creation of seamless connection to Interstate 264 (I-264).
- Extension of useful life of existing tunnels.
- Improved reliability and connectivity.
- Creation of improved critical links to port facilities, supporting the movement of goods and enhancing regional competitiveness.
Job creation is expected to include more than $1 billion of construction works to be built by local companies, more than 500 project-direct jobs and more than 1,000 indirect jobs in the community with related industries and suppliers will be created through local suppliers and vendors. In addition to the creation of approximately 200 permanent facilities, maintenance and operations jobs.
Upon completion of the new Midtown Tunnel, fore-casted for 2016, the average commuter will save approximately 30 minutes daily round-trip.
The Comprehensive Agreement includes a $2 million annual partnership with Hampton Roads Transit to enhance public transportation services via increased connectivity with and frequency of bus, light rail and ferry services.
Why is this Project needed?
The Project has long been the number one transportation priority for the Hampton Roads region. The existing Midtown Tunnel is a 50-year-old facility carrying a million vehicles a month. It is the most heavily traveled two-lane road east of the Mississippi and a vital link between Norfolk and Portsmouth. Since the tunnel was built, population has increased nearly 70 percent and tunnel usage has gone up by 600 percent. Additional capacity is greatly needed.
A second tunnel, in addition to the MARTIN LUTHER KING (MLK) Extension and other improvements are critical for motorists, the region’s economy, the efficient movement of goods and services and the quality of life.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has not been able to undertake or fully fund and support the Project under traditional delivery methods. Under the Public Private Partnership Act, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has partnered with Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) to move forward with construction. This allows VDOT to use limited public funds to leverage significant private sector resources to move forward with the Project. The Project has received all the necessary National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approvals.
What is Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC)?
ERC’s lead firms are Skanska Infrastructure Development
and Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA)
, public-private partnership (PPP) developers and infrastructure investors as well as operators. Both have existing operations in the Commonwealth.
What is a public-private partnership or P3?
A P3 transportation project is one in which a public agency (VDOT) partners with a private entity (ERC) to develop, construct and operate transportation facilities in order to offset the need for public allocations to fund the work.
How would a P3 work in this Project?
In Virginia, the Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA) of 1995 authorizes state agencies and local governments to execute agreements with private firms to develop, construct and/or operate transportation facilities. This Project is being procured under the PPTA. The PPTA is not for all projects – only for ones that provide an innovative method of construction or financing that can deliver a project in a faster or less costly manner. The PPTA allows a responsible public entity (in this case, VDOT) to negotiate a Comprehensive Agreement (Agreement) with a private entity (in this case ERC) to develop and/or operate a qualifying project.
How was ERC selected for this Project?
There are several steps in VDOT’s PPTA evaluation process, which are detailed in the Commonwealth’s PPTA Implementation Guidelines, but briefly are:
- VDOT evaluates the feasibility of all proposals and the qualifications of the proposing teams.
- An Independent Review Panel reviews and evaluates the proposals and comments submitted by affected citizens and jurisdictions.
- The Commonwealth Transportation Board reviews the Independent Review Panel’s recommendations and recommends to the commonwealth transportation commissioner whether to advance to a detailed proposal and further evaluation by VDOT.
- A detailed proposal evaluation is presented by the private firm.
- VDOT and the private entity negotiate the multiple aspects of a contract.
ERC was selected based on this process. In September 2008, ERC was the only team to submit a conceptual proposal to develop and operate the project using private investments, user fees including tolls and other innovative financing methods. The Commonwealth transportation commissioner ultimately approved the advancement of ERC’s conceptual proposal and directed staff to begin negotiations for an interim agreement. The process did not include a detailed proposal. A Comprehensive Agreement was signed in December 2011 and financing was achieved in April 2012.
The last phase of the procurement process was completed with the signing of the comprehensive agreement in December 2011.
VDOT has a contractual relationship with ERC and will work cooperatively to achieve financial close and initiate construction of the assets.
How will the Commonwealth and VDOT ensure that the public’s interests are protected in this Project?
A detailed comprehensive agreement gives the commonwealth clear powers and responsibilities for public oversight, which includes setting performance standards for ERC. The toll rate and escalation are set in the agreement, which has been negotiated by both VDOT and ERC. The agreement requirements ensure that the facility is developed in accordance with all state and federal design and safety standards and is well maintained throughout the term of the agreement.
How will ERC be monitored? What is VDOT or the commonwealth’s role?
VDOT will continue to maintain ownership of the project “infrastructure” (i.e. roadways, bridges, tunnels) and right of way, and will have oversight of ERC’s activities. As part of the procurement process, VDOT has established performance measures that must be met by ERC throughout the life of the agreement.
Why do we need a P3 for this Project?
The planned project improvements are funded, in part, by Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)’s Six-Year Improvement Program. Forming a P3 allows VDOT to utilize private sector technical, management and additional financial resources to help achieve the Project’s. It also provides a process for generating the funds necessary to make costly, but critical, improvements to Hampton Road’s regional transportation system in a more efficient manner.
By using a P3 arrangement, VDOT is able to enter into a long-term agreement with a firm that will be responsible for the construction, maintenance and operation of the facilities.The design and construction of an immersed tube tunnel requires extensive resources, environmental consideration, technical experience and risk management skills, all of which ERC is prepared to manage in an efficient manner.
What are the benefits of a P3 for this Project?
P3‘s usually can be completed more quickly than traditional design-bid-build or design-build projects. The time savings is realized primarily because of the funding component. The Elizabeth River Tunnels Project would not be possible at this time or in the foreseeable future without the P3 structure and its innovative funding feature. PPTA guidelines also allow projects to be accelerated by compressing and overlapping activities, which need to be sequenced in a traditional project delivery method.
The PPTA Implementation Guidelines also allow for agreements in the midst of a project to accelerate it. In addition, firms proposing PPTA projects are required to share financial, technical, revenue and other risks. Such firms might be required to raise capital or find alternative sources of funding, as opposed to using government funds. Project cost savings and improved quality often result. PPTA guidelines also promote the creation of multimodal and intermodal solutions to transportation challenges.
What is a comprehensive agreement?
ERC will finance, design, construct, operate and maintain the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project for a term of 58 years. The comprehensive agreement
is the contractual framework for the Project.
What does the comprehensive agreement mean to commuters?
The average round trip user of the facilities will save about 30 minutes a day. There are additional alternatives for commuters who use Interstate 264 (I-264) with the construction of the Martin Luther King Extension.
What are the contractual details of the comprehensive agreement?
The comprehensive agreement describes in detail the rights and responsibilities of both VDOT and ERC, including that:
- ERC bears the full risk and responsibility for toll collection and traffic volumes achieving its forecasts. There is no guaranteed rate of return.
- ERC solely has the responsibility for obtaining and repaying debt. There is no recourse to the commonwealth.
- ERC has full financial responsibility for the rehabilitation work for the existing assets.
- VDOT fully retains ownership of the assets, has full oversight of all activities.
- VDOT at its sole discretion can suspend tolls for emergency evacuations and/or to divert traffic from a roadway emergency.
- Revenues from toll collection must first be used to pay operations and maintenance expenses, debt, taxes and deposits into a Major Maintenance Reserve Fund.
- The Agreement will provide for revenue-sharing with VDOT if the project exceeds specified thresholds.
The comprehensive agreement is a document that reflects the complexity of the project with an appropriate framework of checks and balances to provide oversight, as well as details about responsibilities and requirements. It establishes requirements for contractual practices; public welfare considerations; ethical standards and requirements; management of intellectual property; insurance requirements and documentation procedures; and hand-back conditions, among other facets.
Does this mean that VDOT will not build the Patriot’s Crossing?
The Project will not prohibit the future development of Patriots Crossing or any other projects in the Hampton Roads region. If the commonwealth opens Patriots Crossing to traffic during the term of the Midtown Tunnel agreement, ERC may make a claim if the revenues needed to pay back the financing for the Midtown Tunnel Project decreases because of Patriots Crossing. ERC must comply with strict notice requirements in order to make a claim and ERC bears the burden of proof in demonstrating revenue impacts.
How does the profit sharing work?
ERC will share with VDOT a portion of gross revenues earned in excess of ERC’s baseline revenue forecasts. The percentage share of excess gross revenues increases as the amount of gross revenues earned by ERC increases. VDOT is required by law to use the shared revenue on transportation improvements in the corridor.
What are the thresholds?
If gross revenues exceed baseline forecasts from 5% to 10%, 10% to 20%, 20% to 30% and in excess of 30%, VDOT will share 5%, 15%, 30% and 60% respectively. ERC may earn gross revenues up to 5% in excess of baseline forecasts before VDOT shares in profits.
Project Costs and Tolling
When will I start paying for tolls?
In April 2012, VDOT announced that the Commonwealth allocated funding for toll deferment until February 2014.
What is the toll rate in the comprehensive agreement?
The toll rates at the start of tolling will apply to light vehicles and heavy vehicles. Light vehicles are classified as vehicles with up to two axles and six tires, including passenger cars, motorcycles, motorcycles equipped with a sidecar, towing a trailer or equipped with a sidecar towing a trailer, and 2-axle trucks (4 and 6 tires). Heavy vehicles are classified as vehicles with three or more axles. Toll rates for light vehicles using either the Downtown or Midtown Tunnels will be $1.59 (off-peak) and $1.84 (peak). Toll rates for heavy vehicles are $4.77 (off-peak) and $7.36 (peak). All vehicles that use the MLK Extension and one of the tunnels as part of a single trip will pay $0.50 to use the MLK extension. All vehicles that use only the MLK Extension will pay $1.00. Peak Period is Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. All other times are considered Off-Peak.
When will the toll rate increase?
Tolls will escalate during the term of the agreement as escalation is necessary to account for increases in costs for operations and maintenance. ERC will be required to continuously spend significant resources to maintain the assets. According to the comprehensive agreement, ERC has the right to increase tolls on a yearly basis after the new Midtown Tunnel reaches substantial completion (scheduled for 2016). The tolls will escalate by a factor equal to the greater of changes to Consumer Price Index or 3.5 percent.
How is stopping at a toll booth going to reduce congestion?
Tolls on this Project will operate more efficiently and safely without traditional toll booths. Gantries over the roadway collect the toll electronically – with no cash option, no stopping or slowing. Drivers are encouraged to maintain normal travel speeds.
What is E-ZPASS?
E-ZPASS is a toll payment system whereby a transponder is mounted inside a vehicle and when passing through a toll gantry, fees are electronically collected. It is used on toll facilities in the East and Midwest, including other roads in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Maine, Massachusetts, Indiana and Illinois.
How can individuals sign up for E-ZPASS?
Virginia residents can create an E-ZPASS account at VDOT’s website https://www.ezpassva.com/CreateAccount/CreateAccountHome.aspx
or call the customer service center toll-free at 877-762-7824. The website also includes links for residents of other states.
What is electronic tolling? How does it work?
Electronic tolling is a mechanism by which the collection of tolls is performed electronically. By eliminating the need for physical toll booths, traffic can be sustained at a free flow pace, which reduces vehicle idle times, thus reducing any negative impacts on the environment. Tolls are collected via overhead electronic gantries instead of toll booths to allow for the free-flow of traffic. Vehicles may pass through the toll point at the posted speeds with no need to slow down, stop or find correct change. Each vehicle is identified either by an E-ZPASS transponder or license plate. A wide variety of options for payment will be offered.
How can I pay the toll if I don’t have E-ZPASS?
Pay By Plate, an electronic system whereby video cameras are used to capture license plate data, will also be used on the project. Vehicles that do not have E-ZPASS transponders will be mailed an invoice for the toll due. E-ZPASS rates for the tunnels are: Auto off-peak: $1.59; Peak: $1.84. Truck off-peak: $4.77; Peak: $7.36. For the MLK Extension: $0.50 for tunnel users; $1.00 for non-tunnel users.
If a driver does not have E-ZPASS, an invoice will be mailed to them. Invoiced customers are charged for cost recovery, which by Virginia law is capped at two times base toll rate.
Payment options will include paying in person, by mail, by telephone or online. To simplify billing and payment, ERC anticipates setting up accounts for frequent users who do not wish to obtain E-ZPASS transponders.
Are there fines for not paying the toll?
Yes, the fines are established in Virginia Code 46.2-819.1 and 46.2-819.3. Fines will only be applied for non-payment not for using the facility without a transponder. More information regarding the toll violation process can be found at:
Where will tolls be collected? Can I drive within Portsmouth and not pay a toll?
Toll gantries are located on the Portsmouth side of the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels , as well as access points to the MLK Expressway Extension. Those only traveling the MLK Expressway Extension, not the tunnels, will pay a reduced fee. Existing portions of the MLK in Portsmouth will not be tolled, and inter-Portsmouth/local travel on the Extension will not be tolled.
Are there free alternative routes?
Yes. Alternate water-crossing routes include the Military Highway Gilmerton Bridge and the High Rise Bridge on Interstate 64 (I-64). Riders on public transportation, such as buses and the ferry service will not be charged toll fees.
Will tolls be collected during emergency evacuations?
In the event of a hurricane, or other emergency events, tolls are waived at the direction of VDOT in accordance with the comprehensive agreement.
What happens during a hurricane or other weather event?
At its sole discretion, VDOT has the ability to waive tolls during emergency evacuation. VDOT’s Hurricane Evacuation Guide is found here.
What to Expect
How soon will construction begin?
Construction began in June 2012; more details are located on the Project Timeline
Will the Midtown Tunnel be closed during the construction period?
No, there may be periodic lane closures or weekend tunnel closures, but the current routes will remain open during work hours and workdays.
Will the tunnels close during construction?
Yes. However, tunnels will only close on weekends and not for the entire duration of construction. The Project Technical Requirements are explicit in the procedures for tunnel closures. Ample lead time must be provided to the public in communicating what weekends a tunnel will close and what alternative detour routes will be posted. The Downtown Tunnel (westbound or eastbound) will not be closed in conjunction with the existing Midtown Tunnel.
When will the new Midtown Tunnel be open?
Please refer to the Project Timeline
for milestone dates. Our goal is to have a new Midtown Tunnel and the MLK Extension open to traffic by late fall 2016.
Will construction impact my commute?
There are going to be minor impacts to motorists during construction. ERC’s work zone will become isolated from current travel lanes and improvements to the existing tunnels are going to proceed at night.
What impact will there be on the community and local streets during construction?
Impacts to the Elizabeth River will be minimal and all impacts will be mitigated in accordance with state and federal law. Access to Plum Point Park will be maintained throughout construction, as will the Elizabeth River Trail.
What impact on the environment will the Project have?
The Commonwealth, Federal Highway Administration and ERC take environmental compliance very seriously. The Project will follow strict regulations as set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency and the commonwealth, and will be developed under ISO 14001 environmentally sustainable business standards. Additionally, Skanska ID will employ its rigorous Environmental Management System, which helped it be named the #1 Green Contractor in the U.S. by the leading construction magazine Engineering News-Record.
Will the Project impact the area’s historic cemeteries?
No. A binding agreement on December 11, 2009, between the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Federal Highway Administration and VDOT eliminated all ground disturbing activities within the Potter’s Field and Mount Cavalry Cemetery complex. ERC will adhere to the requirements of the agreement during design and construction. Additionally, ERC will establish fencing at the cemetery boundaries to ensure no construction equipment impacts the historic cemeteries.
What happens to existing employees?
All administrative, maintenance and operational responsibilities currently accomplished at the Elizabeth River Tunnel facilities by VDOT staff will be transferred to ERC. VDOT and ERC have worked together to identify opportunities for VDOT employees who may be interested in pursuing employment with ERC and to facilitate a smooth transition.
Where can I get additional information about the Project?
If you don’t find the information you are looking for here on our website, feel free to ask us a question
and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible..
What job opportunities are there with ERC?
Interested subcontractors can email email@example.com
or call the Skanska Virginia Beach office at 757-420-4140. VDOT will host a subcontractor outreach event in early 2012 and will continue outreach through the life of the project; specific details for the event are not determined. Interested subcontractors are encouraged to utilize the resources of VDOT’s Business Opportunity and Workforce Development Program. More information can be found online at http://www.virginiadot.org/business/BOWD.asp
, by calling 804-662-9555 or emailing BOWDCenter@vdotvirginia.gov
. For information about becoming a DBE or SWAM vendor, visit www.dmbe.virginia.gov