CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Transportations officials have approved an “historic” agreement to fund a planned multibillion-dollar project to expand the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
The Virginia Department of Transportation said in a news release an agreement to commit $3.56 billion toward the project was unanimously approved at a special meeting of The Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC) on Thursday.
When the HRBT was built in the 1960s, it was designed to handle 1960s level traffic.
Hampton Roads has grown exponentially since then, and if this community wants to continue to grow, leaders say they have to tackle the traffic issues.
The project will widen the HRBT from two lanes to four lanes of traffic in each direction — adding two free lanes, an express lane and a shoulder express lane. It’s the biggest transportation project in the Commonwealth and among the biggest in the country.
“Two lanes that are available that will be classified as general purpose or free, and two lanes during the peak period that be considered manage lanes that will have a fee for those that are not HOV complaint,” explained VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich
VDOT said Thursday the $3.56 billion will be paid through the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund from regional sales and gas taxes. HRTAC is expected to fund 95 percent of the project.
Another $308 million combined between the Commonwealth’s SMART SCALE program and VDOT will fund the replacement of the South Island Trestle Bridges in Norfolk.
State Senator Frank Wagner started working on this 15 years ago, when the Navy put out reports saying it couldn’t recommend expanding operations here because of transportation issues.
“It’s our biggest business and clearly we’ve got to come up with a solution to that and if the Navy feels that way every private business that wants to locate here, every industry is going to feel the same way,” said Wagner.
“This is probably politics at its best,” said Michael Hipple the chairman of HRTAC. “Everyone’s come together. they haven’t worried about, ‘well I don’t have it in James City County, I don’t have it in Isle of Wight, I don’t have this.’ We’ve come together and saw this was a need and came together as a group in order to fund this to move this forward.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced in mid-February Hampton Roads Connector Partners was selected as the contractor for the project, which is slated to for completion in November 2025.
A groundbreaking ceremony will take place in April.
Mayor Kenny Alexander said in statement, “With over $1 billion of regional funding already invested by HRTAC in congestion relief projects under construction by VDOT, HRTAC’s funding commitment to the HRBT expansion is truly another major milestone for Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth.”
Overall leaders say the project will greatly improve the quality of life for people who live, work and travel in Hampton Roads.