Office of Public-Private Partnerships

Tag Archives: Hampton Roads

“Billions around the corner: Dozens of road projects get green light”

By Nate Delesline III
nate.delesline@insidebiz.com

I 64 and I 264 Interchange.jpg

Anyone who drives or travels in Hampton Roads knows these familiar, frustrating choke points.

Interstate 64 on the Peninsula west of Jefferson Avenue. The I-64/I-264 interchange in Virginia Beach. The High Rise Bridge in Chesapeake. And, of course, the infamous Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

Traffic improvements are around the corner for these spots and many others.

Major work is already under way to widen I-64 on the Peninsula. Ground was recently broken on the first phase of improvements to the I-64/I-264 junction. And transportation officials this month approved a major expansion of the HRBT.

“We’ve got $650 million in construction contracts on the street right now,” said Jim Utterback, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s district administrator. “And over the next year, with a couple of those big projects and the other work, we will add at least $1 billion to it.”

Aubrey Layne, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, credits Smart Scale, the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission and fresh leadership in the form of new mayors and other officials for providing momentum and support for all the projects.

Smart Scale scores state transportation projects based on objective factors such as safety, congestion mitigation and economic development. The Accountability Commission sets regional transportation spending priorities.

Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia “are our key economic drivers,” Layne continued. “We focused on them, and both regions are moving forward.” And although the transportation wish list isn’t totally fulfilled, in Hampton Roads, “the region came around and said, ‘We’re not giving up the future by just moving forward with what we can.’ ”

Utterback said, “I don’t think there is one panacea project, but I think when you look at the combination of projects and what we’re going to do over the next six to eight years, it should help tremendously in mobility.”

HRBT expansion

Although it’s likely almost a decade from completion, the HRBT expansion is the key to improving regional mobility, Layne said. Slated for completion in 2024, the project will add a third tunnel, expanding the water crossing from four lanes to six. The estimated cost is $4 billion, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

“The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, with all those other improvements on that corridor, was the linchpin and the keystone project to bring it all together,” Layne said. That project “is clearly the one with the most impact that ties all this other stuff that we’re doing in.”

Although a planned third crossing, supplementing the HRBT and Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, is top of mind for many people, “I’m convinced that these (projects) all should be done before a third crossing anyway,” Layne said. “So I think we’re doing them in the right order based on the resources and the way things have worked out.”

Widening I-64

Widening 21 miles of I-64 from Jefferson Avenue in Newport News to Newman Road in York County is a three-phase project. The first segment’s estimated cost is $122 million. Work began in fall of 2015, while work on the second segment, which has an estimated cost of $189 million, began this fall. The estimated cost for the third segment is $290 million, Utterback said.

Utterback said the higher cost of the final segment is due in part to the necessity of replacing the Queen’s Creek bridges, which are more than 1,000 feet long and located near the Camp Peary exit for westbound travelers.

The I-64/I-264 interchange

The Commonwealth Transportation Board in September awarded a $107 million contract to expand and improve the ramp from I-64 west to I-264 east and Newtown Road.

According to a VDOT announcement, the project will add a second exit lane from westbound I-64, the ramp from I-64 west to I-264 east will be widened, a new two-lane collector-distributor road will be added to serve the Newtown Road interchange and a new two-lane flyover ramp will be built to provide access to I-264 east from I-64 west, to eliminate traffic weaving.

The High Rise Bridge

VDOT also recently began the design-build procurement process for a project to to widen the High Rise Bridge and adjacent highway corridors from four to six lanes.

The first phase of that two-part project, with an estimated cost of $600 million, would replace the existing High Rise Bridge with a fixed-span bridge crossing of the Elizabeth River, along with widening of three other bridges along a nearly 9-mile stretch of highway. Utterback said the new High Rise Bridge “span will be at a much higher height than the movable span we have right now. VDOT expects to award a contract for the project’s first phase next fall.

Moving forward

All of the projects are good news for transportation mobility, which translates to economic mobility, the Hampton Roads Chamber said.

“The Hampton Roads Chamber is encouraged with the recent announcements of transportation projects in the region and the methodology used to prioritize and fund them,” chamber President and CEO Bryan Stephens said in an email. “We have long been advocates of a robust multimodal transportation system in Hampton Roads which allows people and products to move efficiently and effectively throughout the region. We believe congestion relief and transportation options are critical enablers for business and economic development.”

Layne echoed that sentiment.

“I believe people will look back and say this is the year that Hampton Roads got serious and made great decisions about moving forward on transportation. Is everything perfect?” Layne said. “No, but I think we’ve moved the needle.”

A complete list and full details on the more than 80 projects that are proposed, under construction and recently completed, is available on VDOT’s Hampton Roads webpage.

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“Kerry Dougherty: Tax dollars built traffic lanes, so HOV and HOT lanes should be open to all”

Oct 23, 2016

 Admit a mistake? Hah. Government never does that.

Instead, when faced with their blunders, public officials often compound their earlier decisions with more of the same.

For example, unwilling to admit that the Utopian concept of high-occupancy vehicle lanes was a colossal mistake in many places (they blame us and our selfish attachment to the combustion engine, by the way) the country’s transportation geniuses are doubling down.

Frustrated commuters, meet HOT lanes. High-occupancy toll lanes. They’re springing up everywhere. To mixed reviews.

These lanes allow solo drivers to steer out of congestion into the HOV lanes by paying a toll, leaving the unwashed to stew in traffic.

What a lovely concept.

In theory, everyone benefits. When drivers pay to use the HOT lanes, the schlumps stuck in the free-for-all lanes experience less congestion.

It’s the trickle-down theory of traffic.

HOV lanes – a brazen attempt at social engineering – have been around for decades.

Still, most drivers commute to and from work alone for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is convenience. While dreamy engineers might have believed that with just a small nudge, motorists would gladly sandwich themselves into sedans with strangers every weekday to take advantage of HOV lanes, anyone with common sense – or a kid at home – could have told them they wouldn’t.

When my children were young and I was commuting daily to Norfolk, I lost count of the times I picked up the office phone only to hear the school nurse telling me to pick up my sick or injured kid. ASAP. No time to wait for the merry carpool gang. Or a bus. Or light rail.

Beyond that, commuters want to be able to leave immediately if they finish work early, stop at the supermarket on the way home or go directly to a kid’s soccer game without first dropping off the rest of the car pool.

According to a story in Thursday’s Virginian-Pilot, the reversible HOV lanes along I-64 were designed to accommodate 6,000 cars an hour. Yet during the morning rush hour, there are fewer than 1,600.

Making matters worse, about a third of those cars are there illegally, according to Keith Nichols, principal transportation engineer for the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. The best estimate of solo drivers brazenly using the HOV lanes is about one in three cars, Nichols told me Thursday.

Who are these defiant drivers, anyway? Most ordinary decent people wouldn’t deliberately violate a law. Even one that’s ridiculous.

For at least 18 years, local transportation experts have toyed with the notion of turning the empty HOV lanes of Hampton Roads into HOT lanes.

They’ve finally succeeded.

On Wednesday, the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to convert more than eight miles of reversible HOV lanes along I-64 into HOT lanes. With a little luck, these Cadillac corridors – or Lexus lanes – will be open next year.

Those with loot will be able to zip along during heavy volume hours, while the unwashed will fume in the lunch pail lanes.

The concept is similar to one that’s in use in many theme parks. Visitors to places like Busch Gardens can skip long lines and leapfrog the sweating masses by purchasing a Quick Queue pass on top of their admission ticket.

It’s expensive. But for many, worth it.

Busch Gardens is a private park, of course, built with private money. The owners can do as they wish.

Our highways were built with tax dollars. Much of it from the gas tax. The construction worker filling his beat-up Ford F-150 pays as much as the developer gassing up his new Mercedes.

We built those lanes together. Open them up.

But Virginia’s transportation secretary points out that if Virginia decided to simply abolish HOV lanes, the commonwealth might be forced to return federal highway dollars. A letter from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation in 2008 to then-Rep. Thelma Drake sternly reminded Hampton Roads that HOV lanes cannot be reopened to the people who paid for them. Instead, then-Secretary Mary E. Peters suggested converting the underused lanes to HOT lanes.

HOT lanes reportedly work well in some places, not so well in others.

Not to worry. If they fail here, transportation experts will simply cook up another solution.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take decades for them to figure it out. <story>

“A 3-lane tunnel + other stuff we heard and saw at the water crossing open house”

 | Virginian Pilot

It usually takes something pretty big to get hundreds of people to attend a public hearing on transportation issues.

Building a new water crossing from South Hampton Roads to the Peninsula or expanding current bridge-tunnels are that type of issue.

Nearly 300 people attended two open houses on the topic this week – an unusually large crowd, according to Scott Smizik, VDOT’s project manager.

These things are always interesting to go to. They don’t necessarily contain any news, but I find it interesting to be a fly on the wall just to hear what people talk about.

For the most part, it’s residents looking at how a project will affect them personally, Smizik said.

It could be a daily commuter across the water who is sick of the traffic and backups. Or complaints about those who don’t know how to drive in a tunnel.

Or the homeowner whose property is in the cross hairs of expansion. Maybe they are far enough away from the project but will be adversely affected by noise and want to know if they will get a sound wall.  <Full Story>

“The Modern History of Hampton Roads in One Map” – Virginian Pilot

eb 6, 2016

Commuting patterns map

If you look at the map, the giant mess of blue lines looks like it doesn’t mean a thing.

It’s such a mess, planners call it “the spaghetti map” because it resembles a tangle of noodles.

What it represents is the travels of Hampton Roads workers – where they live and where they drive to work.

“It looks odd, but it really does tell a story: we’re going everywhere across the region,” said Keith Nichols, a transportation engineer with Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization.

Nearly half of Hampton Roads’ labor force, 47 percent, works in a city where they don’t live – the fourth-highest rate in the country for regions our size.

The group has pulled the data from census surveys for years, but this is the first time it has produced maps to illustrate the 2009-2013 data.

Megan Mern Wynn, a government contractor, is one of 1,740 people who commute daily from Norfolk to Hampton.

It’s not that she desired a 35-minute commute up I-64, through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and back every day.

Wynn wanted to change jobs, develop her career, and she says the sacrifice is worth it.

“I have now learned all the shortcuts to the HRBT, which has helped a lot,” Wynn wrote on Facebook. “Most days it isn’t bad, but I have had some bad commutes home that have taken far longer.”

Among regions with a population between 1 million and 3 million, Hampton Roads is only behind Richmond (55 percent), Denver (50) and Baltimore (48) in cross-jurisdictional commuters.

Planners use the data largely as awareness, Nichols said, and it highlights the importance of a functioning regional road system.

“Any given day, half of our population moves across a jurisdictional line to get to and from work,” Nichols said. “We need to think more than just moving people around Virginia Beach or just within Norfolk.”

<Full Story and additional Maps>

 

“Transportation Notebook: Here’s what the people say about needed water crossings”

Jan 17, 2016

Hampton Roads studies on crossings

Hampton Roads residents are split on how to improve water crossings in the area.

As part of a Virginia Department of Transportation environmental study, residents weighed in at public meetings and online. The study will determine the best scenarios, whether that’s building the “third crossing” known as Patriots Crossing, expanding the Monitor-Merrimac or the Hampton Roads bridge-tunnels, or a combination.

More than 200 people responded, which doesn’t sound like a lot in a metro area of 1.7 million, but it’s nearly 40 pages of comments in tiny print.

The largest group, 31 percent, wants to see the whole system – HRBT and MMBT expansion, Patriots Crossing and other smaller projects – tackled.

About 28 percent said they want to see just the HRBT expanded; 24 percent want the MMBT expanded and Patriots Crossing built.

One resident who just moved back to the area wrote: “Fix (this) as soon as possible. This area has not kept up with traffic needs for decades. We can’t rely on one corridor to fix the traffic nightmare which is the Tidewater area. It is shocking that VDOT and the Commonwealth has failed to make much needed improvements.”

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“Transportation secretary wants high-occupancy toll lanes studied for Hampton Roads”

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne wants Hampton Roads transportation planners to study how changing high-occupancy-vehicle lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes might reduce congestion.

The tactic has worked near Washington to help reduce congestion and could be a quick, cheap fix for Hampton Roads, he said.

“Much of the discussion in the region about addressing transportation issues is focused on major projects that cost hundreds of millions to billions of dollars and take years to plan, design and build,” Layne wrote. “While I believe the focus on identifying the next water crossing that will be improved is appropriate, there are other solutions that should be considered concurrently.”

<Full Story>

 

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