Private toll-funded proposal for enhancing Hampton Roads VA crossings - Skanska-VDOT
A group led by Skanska is proposing tolls on the three major crossings in the Hampton Roads area to fund $3.5b to $4.5b of works including additional travel lanes on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT) and on I-64 on either side, as well as improvements and upkeep of the I-664 Monitor Merrimack Memorial Bridge Tunnel (MMMBT) and the James River Bridge (JRB). The proposal says tolls in the range $4 to $6 would be needed to support the outlays.
Skanska's proposal to VDOT is unsolicited and under the state's public-private transportation act Virginia DOT will accept competing proposals for 120 days - until Feb 24, 2011.
Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT) and the 9-mile, 15km stretch of I-64 between Hampton (at the I-664 interchange) and Norfolk (at the I-564 interchange) is the most seriously congested highway in the metro region. It is just 2+2 lanes expressway carrying close to 100k vehicles/day, often slowly moving or stopped.
The Skanska proposal is to widen I-64 by one lane each direction to provide 3+3 lanes on both sides of the bridge-tunnel and to add 4-lanes to the crossing itself to make it 4+4 lanes. The third laving of approaches minimizes impacts to local communities while putting in place 8-lanes on the bridge-tunnel portion to provide for economical 4th laning of the whole corridor if needed in future.
Through Norfolk, paving a grass median allows third lanes plus shoulders with no extra real estate, they say.
Support from legislator
The project has been strongly supported by local Delegate Glenn Oder (Repub) vice chair house transportation committee. He got legislation passed earlier in the year requiring acceptance of private sector proposals for the HRBT and I-64 corridor and his legislation also has VDOT sponsoring an alternatives analysis and environmental impact process for permitting the I-64 project under federal NEPA requirements. The schedule provides for hire of consultants 2011-03, draft EIS by 2012-09, final EIS 2014-03.
The Skanska group (named for this project Hampton Roads Crossings or HRC) says construction could begin 2014 for completion 2018. HRC would take responsibility from VDOT for operations and maintenance of the two other crossings in the region - Monitor Merrimack Memorial Bridge Tunnel and the James River Bridge - as well as some stretches of approaches for the term of a concession agreement.
Tolls on all these roadways would be all-electronic.
The existing crossings were built as toll projects (see HISTORY below), but tolls were removed in 1976.
The proposed tunnel section of the new HRBT project would use the immersed tube method of construction. The tunnel would be built of 24 300ft long x 102ft wide (91m x 31m) segments formed up and poured ashore and barged into position in a dredged trench.
Skanska's plan is a hybrid of two alternatives that were part of a VDOT feasibility study dated Dec 2008.
The Skanska team named Hampton Roads Crossings (HRC) comprises Skanska Infrastructure Development, Skanska USA Civil, Kiewit Infrastructure Company, Weeks Marine and Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Skanska is a large international firm headofficed in Stockholm Sweden with the US office in Alexandria VA. The group is already working in the Hampton Roads area on a project a few miles to the southwest of the HRBT - the Midtown/Downtown Tunnel MLK Freeway (Midtown) project with similarities to the HRBT.
A local official told us the HRBT project faces major political and financial obstacles.
He said toll elasticity of demand is quite high in the area according to past studies and experience. Tolls of $1.25 on the present HRBT and MMMBT were abolished in 1976 and there was a huge surge of traffic. Proposed tolls of $4 to $6 he suggested might reduce traffic sufficiently to end the need for expansion of capacity beyond the present 4 lanes.
Traffic and revenue studies of most major crossings in the area have shown tolls need very major top-up by by tax revenues to be financially viable.
Also since 1997 the preferred alternative for enhancing north-south movement through the area has been a so-called Third Crossing project in the I-664 corridor some miles to the west and including duplication of the MMMBT plus a major spur east to the Crainey Island port expansion area.
Widening of the I-64 and HRBT has been removed from the region's longrange transportation plan by the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Planning District or MPO. The city of Hampton in which the project is located opposes widening of I-64/HRBT too.
For the project to proceed it would need a turnaround at the city and at the metro plan organization.
The alternative I-664 corridor faces huge financial challenges too but has consistently had more political support in the past.
In favor of I-64
There are some developments weighing in favor of the I-64 upgrade. Port planners prefer it, and have recently proposed a trucks-only connection to Crainey Island port area as a spur off the Western Freeway (VA164) over the I-664 project.
Development in the western portion of the metro area is weaker than expected in the mid-a990s when the I-664 western crossing was selected, strengthening the case for the more easterly I-64 upgrade.
A systematic project weighting analysis of area transportation projects due for release next month reportedly is unlikely to provide any strong backing for one over the other on economic and environmental grounds.
BACKGROUND: Hampton Roads known by the US Census as Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metropolitan statistical area is 36th ranking in the country at 1.67m population in 2009, having recently been overtaken by Austin TX for the 35th slot. Its growth has been consistently slower than northern Virginia but it has suffered less in the 2007 housing crash and unemployment is much lower than the national average at under 7%.
It is a major east coast container port and distribution center with 50ft (15.2m) shipping channels, permitted to 55ft (16.8m) and plentiful landside acreage. It hosts the country's largest naval base in Norfolk and is a tourism and recreation hub because of Colonial Williamsburg and the beaches and boating around the lower Chesapeake Bay.
HISTORY: The first crossing in the area, the James River Bridge, was privately built as a toll crossing built in the 1920s, purchased by predecessor agencies to VDOT in the 1940s and made "free" in 1976. It was replaced in stages by a new structure built from 1975 to 1982.
The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (I-64/US60 today) was originally built in the 1950s as a two-lane toll crossing. It was dualized in the 1970s, and the tolls were removed on the argument that federal interstate funds were paying its capital cost.
The Monitor-Merrimack Memorial Bridge Tunnel (I-664) was built in the late 1980s and early 1990s and opened to traffic in 1992, and has always been a "free" crossing.