Chesapeake VA accepts $100m private toll bridge proposal on Elizabeth River

January 29, 2009

Chesapeake City Council voted Tuesday evening (Jan 27) to accept a private venture proposal to build a approx-$100m high level toll bridge over the Elizabeth River between South Norfolk and Portsmouth in the Norfolk/Hampton Roads metro area. The proposal from Figg Bridge and Britton Hill Partners, a private equity group, means the group will gain title to the 80 year-old city lift span Jordan Bridge and its approaches and land on either side of the river in return for construction of a new fixed high level span.

Figg Bridge/Britton Hill formally put the project to the city in an unsolicited proposal Dec 22 2008. After a period to see if there were competing offers - there weren't any - the City council took up the proposal last evening. Speaking on behalf of the investors was Linda Figg, president of Figg Bridge of Tallahassee FL and Philip Shucet, a consultant to the group.  Shucet was Executive VP at Michael Baker Co and a former Commissioner of Transportation in Virginia. He lives in the Norfolk area.

Shucet has been the principal local representative of the group, organizing meetings, giving presentations and answering inquiries from local groups and officials.

Shucet told us tonight there was good support for the private bridge project on both sides of the river, and no opposition. He says a renewed crossing is regarded as important to the economy of the area. Plans for mixed use redevelopment will be given a boost by the bridge.

The five member City Council voted unanimously to accept the Figg/Britton Hill offer last night.

The City came under heavy criticism when the old Jordan bridge was closed November 8 last year, and city officials said they could not fund repairs or replacement.

They said on their calculations tolls would only support about 20% of the financing cost of a replacement span and 80% would have to be paid out of city tax revenues.

The original lift span bridge was build privately in the 1920s and operated as a private toll bridge but taken over by the city some decades later.

The deal

The City will convey the land and structures on both sides of the river to Figg/Britton Hill. The river is an active waterway and part of the Intra Coastal Waterway network. A permit is still needed from the US Coast Guard  which certifies crossings as compolying with shipping needs.

The central span of the bridge will be 111m (365ft) and there will be 44.2m (145ft) overhead clearance for a channel width of 68.6m (225ft) bounded by channel fenders, slightly wider than the old lift bridge provided.

The City and the bridge group will work for permit from the Coast Guard as an emergency replacement in an effort to get construction under way by March. 

The new bridge will provide direct access from the east to the large Norfolk Naval Shipyard with 15k employees and various other industries on the west side of the river. Norfolk is home base to the US Navy's Atlantic fleet including three large aircraft carriers and supporting warships. It begins on the east side at an interchange with I-464 and ends for the moment on local streets.

The Figg/Britton Hill group promise to finance the new 2-lane bridge at no cost to the City and to have it open by July 4, 2010.

Financing is set up, Shucet tells us.

Of concrete box girder construction the bridge will have  a 12.2m 40ft roadway deck shown striped for one travel lane each direction and 2.4m (8ft) shoulders each side. There is also a barrier protected 2.4m (8ft) pedestrian/bike way. 

The group gets the right to operate all bridging in the corridor and the obligation to provide a second span to allow 2 travel lanes each direction when traffic volumes require the extra capacity.

The bridge will be about 1525m (5000ft) long with approach grades a maximum of 5% and about 30 piers, the spans typically being 46m (150ft) over land. The estuarial river is about 600m (2000ft) wide needing eleven spans over water.

The project will immediately serve local streets on the Plymouth side but has been favored in area planning studies as part of a new 7.1km (4.4 mile) expressway standard loop extending the Martin Luther King Freeway south from the northern ports area across I-264 and swinging east to join I-464 via the Jordan Bridge.

Toll collection will be cashless all-electronic - a combination of E-ZPass Virginia transponders and video tolling.

The bridge will be privately owned in perpetuity and not be the subject of any direct controls over toll rates, although the bridge will face competition from tunnels just a few miles to the north and I-64 to the south.

Traffic on the old lift bridge was only about 7000 vehicles per day. The investor group hopes to increase that several fold, it appears. Traffic on the old bridge was hampered by a 2.7t (6000pd) weight limit and 20 to 30 bridge closings each day for ships to pass.


One forecasting by the Hampton Roads MPO showed a potential for 56k veh/day as part of the expressway loop. At a toll of $2 that would be $41m/year.

In the early years with the western end on local streets traffic of 12k to 15k/day looks more likely and revenue in the range $9m to $11m/yr. (Our numbers TRnews)

Bridge design and construction is likely to cost around $80m and land acquisition, removal of the old bridge and other costs about $20m. (Our numbers TRnews)

Earlier report:

Proposal to City:

TOLLROADSnews 2009-01-28

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