‘Mary the Tunnel Boring Machine’ debuts at tunnel expansion ceremony

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VDOT-HRBT Expansion Project (Photo courtesy: VDOT)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) Expansion Project held an arrival ceremony to celebrate the arrival of “Mary the Tunnel Boring Machine.”

The ceremony took place on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 at 12:30 p.m. at Portsmouth Marine Terminal.

State and regional officials were present including Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner, Stephen Brich and VDOT HRBT Expansion Project Director, Jim Utterback.

Measuring 430 feet long and 46 feet in diameter, Mary is the tunnel boring machine that will be used to construct the new tunnels as part of the HRBT Expansion Project.

Mary was named after Mary Winston Jackson. The name was chosen by Hampton Roads middle school students.

The HRBT expansion project aims to alleviate backups by adding two new tunnels and four additional lanes. The tunnels will be constructed using the bored tunnel approach, the first time that method has been used by VDOT. It is the largest highway project in Virginia history.

In May, the machine was assembled and passed its factory acceptance test. It was disassembled and shipped from Germany to Virginia for its debut at an arrival ceremony.

The tunnel boring process will take about a year. It will start on the South Island and move toward the North Island at a rate of up to 50 feet per day. After reaching the North Island, it will take about four months to turn the machine around.

After being turned around, Mary will spend another year digging a parallel tunnel back to the south Island.

Each tunnel will be able 8,000 feet long. The deepest part of the new tunnels will be about 150 feet underwater. The new tunnels will be about 50 feet deeper than the current HRBT tunnels.

“Today’s arrival of Mary is a major milestone in this generational project, the expansion of the HRBT,” said VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich in a VDOT news release after the ceremony. “Today, we are closer than ever to offering increased options, capacity and reliability for our region, and with the latest tunneling technology, Mary will have little impact to the environment and to the waterway’s Navy, marine and commercial boat traffic while she’s drilling.”

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