Exclusive look behind the scenes of the $3.8B Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion


HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Department of Transportation invited WAVY-TV 10 on a walking tour Wednesday to get an update on the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion Project.   

At $3.8 billion, the HRBT Expansion Project is the largest transportation infrastructure project in Virginia history.

Jim Utterback is project director for the expansion project which will be a five-year Odyssey:  An eventful, adventurous journey the likes of which we have never seen in Virginia. 

The construction of two new tubes will increase capacity from four to eight lanes.

“From a transportation standpoint adding these new tubes will increase capacity and it gives us redundancy for getting across the harbor,” Utterback said. 

All the work going on now is preparing for the March 2022 arrival of the custom-built tunnel boring machine which is under construction in Germany, and is as large as a building.

Raphael Delhaye is second in command for expansion project construction.

“The digging of the tunnel. The boring of the tunnel which will give access to the boring machine … it’s all about digging.” 

Here’s how it works: the tunnel face is being excavated and removed through the suction line, and it keeps inching along, 1.5 miles across the Hampton Roads harbor. Once across, the boring machine bores back the other direction, creating the twin parallel tube.  The twin tubes will be 50 feet deeper than the current ones. 

In the center of activity on the South Island are hydromill trench cutters.

“You have a hydromill that basically excavates the hole and then we put reinforced steel in the hole and then we pour concrete in the hole,” Utterback said.

The hydromill is in an area on the South Island called a launching pit where the tunnel boring machine enters the trench to start the trek across the harbor.

The hydromill basically is digging the protective walls that will hold the tunnel boring machine and protect the existing tunnel structure. 

The crane will lift 190-foot steel cages, then will drop them in the holes. Once filled with concrete, they will form a wall that will protect the tunnel boring machine, which costs about $70 million.

“This is important because this is the work that really gets it ready for the excavation so as a preparation work for the tunnel boring process,” Utterback said.

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