VDOT’s Utterback heading $3.6 billion HRBT expansion project


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Jim Utterback is the new project director of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion.  

He has extensive experience with managing projects, and now he has this one. He was VDOT’s Hampton Roads district administrator from 2013 to 2018.

This $3.6 billion project is the largest road project in Virginia history, according to VDOT. It will be completed in 2024, and the contract will be awarded next spring.

When the project is complete, the HRBT’s tunnel capacity will be four lanes each direction — 2 free lanes, an express lane, and a shoulder express lane.  

Here is the amazing thing: Taxpayers are paying for this, and according to VDOT, it will be the taxpayers that get the toll money, as opposed to a private company like Elizabeth River Crossings. 

Every day the traveling public fights the 1-, or 3-, or 6-mile backup at the HRBT.  It is a way of life for the 100,000 drivers that go across the span daily. 

“I think people care because there is so much congestion every day as we are sitting here and the traffic is backing up 3 to 6 miles every single day,” Utterback said. 

Next spring three possible builders will compete for the most massive transportation project in Virginia’s history.  

The new tunnel will accommodate four lanes of traffic for a total of eight lanes of capacity across the water and will be constructed either as a bored tunnel, where the tunnel is dug through earth, or the tunnel will be an immersed tube tunnel where it is floated to the river bottom.  

Environmental issues will be the big obstacles either way, and Utterback knows that.

“We are going under the federal channel with the world’s largest Naval Base, the Port of Virginia, and there are a lot of challenges in this project. We have to access the channel and keep the marine traffic flowing.”

Let’s talk the environment.

There are two ways to construct the tunnel, and there are environmental concerns with each.  

“With the bored tunnel, there is uncertainty in the geotechnical conditions, but the spoils that come out of that are treated, and they have to be disposed of with care,” Utterback. “If it is an immersed tube tunnel, we will be dredging in excess of four million cubic yards of material disposal of those things.”

We only had one last question for Utterback, and it’s a big one. 10 On Your Side asked him if he is the right man for this mammoth project.  He thought a split second then answered, “I think we do.”

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