Since it opened 50 years ago, the volume of traffic in the Midtown Tunnel connecting Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia, has increased by 600 percent. Currently, more than 120,000 drivers use the two-lane tunnel to cross the Elizabeth River each and every day.
The communities of Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth, and Norfolk are home to tens of thousands of military families and civilian workers supporting our armed forces, the shipbuilding industry, a busy port, and other employers. This very popular region has seen tremendous grwoth recently, but the cost of that growth has been increased congestion. These folks deserve a new option for getting where they need to go.
Fortunately, the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project kicked-off today. And our Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez was there to help celebrate the big event.
The Elizabeth River Tunnels Project will construct a new two-lane tunnel between Norfolk and Portsmouth running parallel to the existing tunnel. In addition to reducing congestion by building a new tunnel, the project will provide a seamless connection between an extended Martin Luther King Expressway and I-264, saving the region's drivers even more time. Once the new Midtown Tunnel is complete, the average round-trip driver using the tunnel will gain about 30 minutes a day, saving fuel costs and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, too.
We’re also rehabilitating the existing Midtown Tunnel tube as well as the nearby Downtown Tunnel, which will further increase safety for drivers, passengers, and cargo.
Apart from a terrific plan to improve transportation in the region, the Tunnels Project also has an innovative financing plan, with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) entering into a public-private partnership with Elizabeth River Crossings, LLC (ERC). VDOT will maintain ownership of the infrastructure and oversee ERC‘s activities, and ERC will finance--with a $1.7 billion investment--and build the facilities, then operate and maintain them for a 58-year period.
Apart from funding support, DOT has also worked hard to ensure that Disadvantaged Business Enterprises--small businesses owned by women and minorities--will have a chance to compete for work on this project. We held a workshop for DBEs in Portsmouth last year to help them learn about the project, form relationships with the prime contractors, and get ready to compete.
And, as Administrator Mendez noted, "This is going to be a tremendous job creator, with an estimated 500 direct construction jobs and another 1,000 indirect jobs."
New jobs, faster commutes, safer roads, and innovative financing--that adds up to one terrific project, and we at DOT are happy to be a part of it.