Tag Archives: Midtown Tunnel

“Midtown Tunnel rush hour commute becoming less congested” 13NewsNow

December 13, 2016

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) — If you’ve noticed lately that the Route 58 Midtown Tunnel from Portsmouth to Norfolk isn’t as jammed as it used to be in the mornings, you’re not alone.

In recent weeks, the eastbound tube of the Midtown Tunnel has not seen its usual congestion during the morning rush hour. It’s a welcome change for drivers who use it on a daily basis.

“I got on the Midtown Tunnel probably like, two days ago, and the traffic was alright, it wasn’t too backed up,” says local driver Cassie Waterford.

“I’m in school so I use [the Midtown Tunnel] for rotations and a lot of times [I] have to go through the tunnels everyday. So, it’s gotten better. And I live right by the tunnel so a lot of times I can look out my window and see how backed up it is. But it’s gotten a little bit better,” says local driver Hillary Hartung.

Elizabeth River Crossings is glad to see the smoother ride at the tunnel as well, and they believe they know what’s behind the improvement in travel.

“We did have one lane of the existing Midtown Tunnel closed so we can accelerate some work in the rehabilitation part of the tunnel,” says Leila Rice with ERC.

That lane reopened to traffic on October 3rd.

“Once we opened that up and you had two lanes now going eastbound– and then you’ve got the two lanes westbound– it immediately freed things up,” explained Rice.

ERC says the addition of tolls and the opening of the new MLK Expressway may also explain lighter traffic at the Midtown Tunnel. Renovation is still going on at the eastbound tube during nights and weekends. In the mornings, however, you’ll have less hold ups heading to Norfolk– and less excuses for being late.

“A couple of different business owners have said that they appreciate actually having the tolls on the tunnels because their employees and I believe the added capacity too has allowed their employees to get to work sooner. They don’t sit in backups and they don’t sit in congestion, and they don’t have to wait for them to get to work,” said Rice.

While both travel lanes are open at the Midtown Tunnel East weekdays, one lane will be closed each night this week from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. for rehab.

The tube will also be fully closed from 8 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday. Take the Downtown Tunnel, Jordan Bridge, Gilmerton Bridge, or High Rise Bridge as an alternate route.

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“Midtown Tunnel backups are a thing of the past and commuters are very happy”

  | Virginian Pilot | October 16, 2016


The Lord God Almighty is getting a lot of credit for traffic improvements at the Midtown Tunnel.

At least that’s what Twitter users are saying, after Elizabeth River Crossings opened up two eastbound lanes of traffic for the first time earlier this month.

For months, cars have snaked all the way back to Churchland during morning rush hour. Then ERC announced it would open both lanes of the tunnel during morning rush hour.

If there aren’t any crashes, breakdowns or bad weather, the daily 1½-to-2-mile backups have been eliminated.

On Twitter, commuters wrote:

“Praise the Lawd”

Two lanes in the Midtown Tunnel. God bless.”

“Eastbound Midtown Tunnel has finally opened both lanes this week.Blessup.”

Brody O’Connor wrote: “They finished working on the Midtown Tunnel! That means 30 mins more of sleep each morning! Things are looking up!”

Now that both lanes are open in the midtown tunnel, it makes commuting not so bad, says ODU student Corynn Brett.

Now that both lanes are open in the midtown tunnel, it makes commuting not so bad, says ODU student Corynn Brett.

And one man gave an expletive-laden shoutout to Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, who really didn’t have much to do with the decision:


I think you get the point: Previously frustrated commuters are excited that they can reclaim part of their day.

ERC made the decision because the contractor, SKW, said it could still get the work done with both lanes open in the morning.

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“Skanska reaches substantial completion of the new Midtown Tunnel of Elizabeth River Tunnels project”

Civil Engineering News | <Full Story>

Washington, D.C. — Skanska, leading a joint venture of Skanska, Kiewit Construction and Weeks Marine (SKW Constructors), reached substantial completion of the new Midtown Tunnel, a key element of the Elizabeth River Tunnels (ERT) project between Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va., four months ahead of schedule.

“This project was Skanska’s first public private partnership (P3) in the U.S. and the early completion clearly demonstrates the value that Skanska can provide in developing and investing in critical infrastructure,” said Johan Henriksson executive vice president, Skanska Infrastructure Development. “P3 allows for effective risk recognition and mitigation and more efficient and accelerated procurement than the traditional design-bid-build process.”

The ERT project consists of Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC), a joint venture of Skanska Infrastructure Development and Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets. The project is using a P3 model for the finance, development, design, construction, operation and maintenance of a new two-lane tunnel adjacent to the existing Midtown Tunnel under the Elizabeth River, connecting the communities of Norfolk and Portsmouth. The 3,800-foot-long underwater vehicle tunnel is one of the few immersed-tube tunnels in the U.S., and is comprised of eleven, 16,000-ton concrete elements.

The tubes were fabricated at Sparrows Point, Md., and towed 220 nautical miles down the Chesapeake Bay to the project site in Portsmouth. They were then immersed and positioned — one element at a time — in a dredged trench nearly 100 feet at the bottom of the Elizabeth River and then connected together through a series of locking mechanisms anSkanska_LayBarge-700d seals.

“It is a significant accomplishment to have completed the new Midtown Tunnel several months ahead of schedule,” said Wade Watson, ERT Project Director for SKW, responsible for the design-build aspect of the project. “This allows us to begin rehabilitation of the existing Midtown Tunnel months sooner than originally planned.”

The new tunnel will reduce traffic congestion on U.S. 58 by providing extra travel lanes, and enhance driver safety by having one tube for eastbound traffic and another tube for westbound traffic. The existing Midtown Tunnel is more than 50 years old. It is considered the “most heavily traveled two-lane road east of the Mississippi,” according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. When it first opened, it handled nearly 8,400 vehicles a day. In 2013, that number rose to nearly 40,000 per day. Traffic is projected to rise to nearly 50,000 vehicles per day by 2026.

“Opening the second travel lane in the US 58 West Midtown Tunnel immediately doubles roadway capacity for motorists traveling from Norfolk to Portsmouth,” said ERC CEO Greg Woodsmall. “Our project team worked extremely hard to deliver this much-needed improvement, months in advance of our contract delivery date. This new facility will help to reduce our regional congestion, ultimately improving the quality of life for Hampton Roads residents.”

Now that the new Midtown Tunnel is operational, the existing Midtown Tunnel will undergo rehabilitation to bring it up to the same standard and the Martin Luther King Expressway will be extended from London Boulevard to Interstate 264. Maintenance and safety improvements to the existing Downtown Tunnels (both eastbound and westbound tubes) has already reached substantial completion.


“Unpacking the Washington Posts’s Critique of the Elizabeth River Crossings P3”

“Unpacking the Washington Post’s Critique of the Elizabeth River Crossings P3” (reprinted from Public Works Financing newsletter 10/15, p. 1)

by Robert W. Poole, Jr.

On October 17th, 2015, the Washington Post ran a news story (not an opinion piece, mind you) called “Agreement for New Submerged Tunnel in Norfolk Leaves Virginia Underwater.” It’s not clear whether reporter Michael Laris (not the Post’s knowledgeable transportation reporter Ashley Halsey) has an ideological bias against P3 deal, or simply listened to and accepted misleading interpretations from local critics of the project. Either way, the result is the kind of damaging critique that needs to be answered.

The thrust of the story is that, at least in this P3 deal, Virginia motorists and taxpayers got taken. Among Laris’s principal charges are the following:

  • The deal should not have been pursued because there was no competition;
  • The concessionaire promised a fully private deal, but the government is putting up most of the money;
  • In negotiating the deal, the concessionaire pulled a bait-and-switch on a naïve client;
  • Virginia DOT would have been better off doing the project itself.

Each of these claims is questionable or false, as we shall see.

The $2.1-billion project calls for the P3 consortium (Elizabeth River Crossings, or ERC) to finance, build, operate, and maintain a second Midtown Tunnel; refurbish, operate, and maintain the existing Midtown and Downtown Tunnels; and extend the Martin Luther King Freeway. Although VDOT’s previous P3 projects had resulted from unsolicited proposals, the agency planned this one as a competitive solicitation. Its initial Request for Information in 2004 drew three serious responses, and in 2006, as the project looked closer to proceeding, more than 50 companies attended a VDOT information meeting. But when VDOT invited conceptual proposals in 2008, only ERC responded.

To decide what to do, VDOT convened an Independent Review Panel and also had the Commonwealth Transportation Review Board review the situation. VDOT’s own CFO and its innovative finance director concluded that ERC was financially qualified and capable of securing equity and debt financing to do the project. We can speculate about why no other team opted to bid, but the likely answer is that they judged the project to be too risky.

ERC’s conceptual proposal did say that it could finance, build, operate, and maintain the project for 50 years without state aid. But that would require that the existing tunnels as well as the new one be tolled, with tolls of $2 to $3 each way for cars (and four times that for trucks). Large-scale public and political resistance arose to both the idea of tolling “existing” capacity and at toll rates perceived as being very high. In 2009, with the Great Recession still in being, VDOT had already cut billions of dollars from its six-year plan and laid off about 1,000 employees. But despite VDOT’s very limited funds, the Independent Review Panel and others recommended that VDOT put in money to buy down the amount ERC had to finance, thereby permitting lower toll rates. That idea went through several iterations, and eventually ended up with a state investment of $408 million, 19% of the $2.1 billion total. (That percentage is in line with a number of recent P3 toll concessions, including VDOT’s I-495 and its forthcoming I-66 express toll lane projects.)

Laris then compares VDOT’s $408 million with ERC’s $221 million equity investment, to claim that the state is putting in more than the private sector. And he compounds this by portraying the project debt—a $422 million TIFIA loan and $675 million in Private Activity Bonds—as government money. He does acknowledge that those debts are ERC’s responsibility, but quickly adds that parent companies Macquarie and Skanska “aren’t on the hook to pay them back” if toll revenues fall short. What he never mentions is that ERC could lose its entire equity investment in that case.

He also does not appear to have done his homework as to what happened in negotiations over the terms of the concession agreement. He reports that in 2011 negotiations over the concession agreement “hit a wall.” He portrays ERC at that point as demanding sweeteners in exchange for state-demanded lower toll rates, but negotiations on that subject had been under way since at least 2009. He also implies that annual inflation-adjustments of the toll rates was a last-minute sweetener, but this had already been agreed to by May 2010 (and is a feature of most P3 toll concessions).

Also not last-minute was a compensation clause if VDOT eventually builds another river crossing not in current long-range plans (another very common P3 provision of keen interest to toll road lenders). The idea that VDOT was a naïve negotiator is belied by the fact that its top-quality advisors on the deal included KPMG and Nossaman.

Toward the end of the article, Laris quotes VDOT Secretary Aubrey Lane as saying VDOT would have been better off doing the project itself, which would have enabled it to “keep the decades of potential upside itself.” That totally ignores the potential downsides of construction cost overruns, late completion, O&M, and in particular traffic and revenue. By doing the project itself, VDOT would have forced Virginia taxpayers to take all of those risks, rather than ERC. At the time the P3 deal was first being worked out, VDOT had no “equity” to invest, and had it done a 100% debt financing, it would have had to scramble for money if traffic and revenue fell short of debt service in the early years of operation, as has happened with many toll projects, both public and private.

It’s dismaying that the Washington Post assigned a non-transportation reporter to do this story. The piece reflects misconceptions about P3s that all too many people believe. The P3 community needs do a much better job of educating opinion leaders and policy-makers about this important new way of doing transportation mega-projects.

“State delegation tells Portsmouth Council to temper toll reduction goals” – VAPilot

November 11, 2015; by Johanna Somers –


City Council members want the legislature to reduce or eliminate tolls at the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, but local lawmakers told them to temper their expectations.

State legislators “are going to be looking for us to find our own long-term sustainable source of funding to take care of ourselves,” state Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, said Tuesday when the council presented its legislative wish list to state lawmakers.

“I think we are pretty much stuck with” the toll contract, added state Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake.

Mayor Kenny Wright said the tunnel tolls were becoming a lesson on “what not to do” nationwide.

“It’s great that we are all using this as the baseline as the worst in the world,” Wright said.

Wright pointed to a study by James Koch, an Old Dominion University economist, that estimated the city would lose about $360,000 in annual revenue because of tolls and tunnel closures.

Cosgrove told the council that options were slim.

“I wouldn’t expect a lot, to be honest with you,” Cosgrove said. “There are a lot of projects that need to be funded, and where does the money come from?”

Lucas, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said she was working on the tolls in a “piecemeal” fashion.

For instance, she said, she worked with Gov. Terry McAuliffe to remove tolls from the Martin Luther King Freeway Extension. McAuliffe announced in July that the state will pay $78 million to keep tolls off of it . She also pointed to the deal with Elizabeth River Crossings, in which the company agreed to contribute $5 million over 10 years to pay for rebates on Midtown and Downtown tunnel tolls for people who are “most severely impacted.”

State Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth, said he would continue to work with the Appropriations Committee to see whether they could come up with a new source of money to reduce the cost of tolls in Portsmouth and Norfolk.

He said they removed tolls from the MLK Extension by taking money left over from the state’s canceled $1.4 billion deal to build a 55-mile highway parallel to U.S. 460 between Suffolk and Petersburg.

“So that is what we can do, but that is probably the most we can do right now,” James said. “But we will continue to see what else we can do to come up with some remedies.”

“Portsmouth Takes a Hit from Tunnel Construction”

The City of Portsmouth has been clobbered by the imposition of tolls on the Midtown Tunnel and Downtown Tunnel connecting the city to Norfolk, and hammered again by construction-related disruptions to service on the tunnels. Combined, the impact of tolls and disruption have reduced quarterly taxable sales by $24 million annually, materially harming businesses and crimping tax revenue, finds James V. Koch, president emeritus of the economics department at Old Dominion University in a new study.

In the report, “The Impact of Tolls on the City of Portsmouth: The Evidence 15 Months Later,” Koch is especially critical of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and its private-sector partner, the Elizabeth River Company (ERC), for providing motorists inadequate warning of the interruptions to traffic disruptions, thus creating widespread uncertainty among discretionary drivers “east of the river” who might otherwise travel to stores, recreation, churches or social gatherings in the city. “In many drivers’ minds, tunnel closures have become sufficiently unpredictable that they are not going to take chances,” he writes.

Koch does not criticize the decision of VDOT under the McDonnell administration to impose tolls on the formerly toll-free tunnels in order to finance construction of new tunnel lanes and related land-side transportation improvements to alleviate some of the worst traffic congestion in Hampton Roads. Benefits will be felt throughout the region. But he does note that Portsmouth is suffering disproportionately.

Says Koch: “My rough estimate is that Portsmouth is impacted 31 percent more than Suffolk by the tolls and closures, 459 percent more than Norfolk, and 616 percent more than Virginia Beach.”

Bacon’s bottom line: It’s no surprise that imposing tolls where there were none imposes economic pain. What I find most interesting is Koch’s conclusion that the impact of construction-related disruptions was almost as severe — $10 million of the $24 million — but could be partially mitigated if ERC and VDOT did a better job of alerting drivers, either through advertising or signage, of those disruptions. That is a management issue, not an inevitable consequence of the construction project.

Koch thinks the hit to taxable sales could get worse this year and next. However, the region should start feeling the benefits when the project is complete. As Koch writes:

When all of the construction is completed (and setting tolls aside), the cost of driving in and out of Portsmouth will decline. Vehicles will be able to travel at higher speeds, fewer traffic jams will confer time savings, travel will become much more predictable, vehicle wear and tear will decline, and there will be diminished pollution. To the extent these reductions in costs exceed the size of the tolls being paid, they will make Portsmouth a more attractive place to live and/or to locate a business.

From a macro-economic perspective, Portsmouth may wind up better off in the long run. But that won’t be much consolation to the businesses that Koch thinks very well could go out of business in the meantime. VDOT and ERC need to act quickly to mitigate what harm they can.