Building the New Midtown Tunnel

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Graphic credit: Virginia Business. Click for more legible image.

Building the new Midtown Tunnel between Norfolk and Portsmouth is one of the more spectacular engineering feats ever attempted in Virginia. Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC), the private-sector partner in charge of the $1.5 billion construction project, has to dredge a 95-foot-deep trench in the Elizabeth River, float 11 massive concrete tubes the length of football fields down from Sparrows Point Md., submerge them, and then place them together within one-inch tolerances in order to snap them together.

The tunnel, only the second in the nation to be constructed in this manner, is engineered to withstand the weight of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Virginia Business has the story.

— JAB

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9 responses to “Building the New Midtown Tunnel

  1. The referenced article is excellent and covers a lot of ground about the project and it’s PPTA/financing.

    one of the main points of the article is that the costs of this project were so large that there was no way that Virginia could fund it and get it built in a timely manner and that drove it to PPTA.

    Critics point out that the Feds and the State have thrown money in as loans also and questions as to why if they did that – why not do the project in house with no 3rd party builder and operator with a 13% profit margin guaranteed by tolls.

    Much has been made about how tolls will inhibit the free flow of traffic between the two jurisdictions including encouraging people to live on the same side they work on – what a concept!

    so … it appears – if you believe some folks – that tolls can influence exurban residential development, eh?

  2. And to think, all it took were onerous tolls on existing facilities, a contract term longer than some radioactive half-lifes and the state agreeing to a no-compete clause! But at least we didn’t have to raise taxes! Great success!

  3. As a point of reference, it has been estimated an additional WMATA tunnel under the Potomac River between Virginia and the District would cost around $5 billion. That might be a bit light as the estimate is several years old.

    • billions is what tunnels do cost – and the state does not have the liquid money to build them nor the credit capacity to borrow for them – without taking money away from other needs in the state.

      the other thing that struck me talking about “resilience” is how close they came to losing the older tunnel during Sandy… and how expensive it will be to go back to the the other tunnels to upgrade them to be able to sustain higher flooding..

      that’s going to result in more tolls I suspect…

  4. TMT, that $5B estimate seems way out of line unless it includes miles of right-of-way and trackage. In addition to the new Midtown tube our ERT project also includes major upgrades to the two existing Downtown tubes, a major new US58/I264 interchange in Portsmouth, several blocks of extension of the MLK freeway, and other appurtenances.

  5. John B – the $5 B figure has been used for a number of years. Given the current rail configuration (the Orange-Silver Lines merging with the Blue Line at Rosslyn), there would likely need to be some additional trackage and, presumably, RoW.

    • not all tunnels are the same…

      TMT – do you have a link to the proposed WAMA tunnel?

      as far as tolls are concerned – I think any project – tunnel or not – any project that is a billion or more is going to be tolled because Va does not have the credit capacity to fund them without using up most of their capacity and endangering their AAA credit rating.

      that pretty much means Va will have to go to the private sector to handle the financing for the project.

      I predict we’re also going to see projects where both tolls and payments from VDOT to the concessionaire – i.e. partial tolls and partial transportation funding – will evolve and actually it already has happened – when Va went back on the Midtown tunnel and forked over more money to “buy down” the toll…

      I’m not sure where that leaves transit and rail because they typically do not charge enough to pay back capital costs and still have money for operations and maintenance – but it’s also probably true – that without METRO – Washington would not be as economically vibrant as it is…

      • Larry, the tunnel is not officially proposed. WMATA is having trouble doing maintenance. But many recognize that expansion capacity is very limited without a second tunnel.

        WMATA also needs to get a handle on its compensation and retirement costs. They are clearly out of line and present a significant barrier to solving some of WMATA’s financial and operating issues.

        WMATA is probably the most screwed up agency around.

  6. What probably should have been done is provide for it on the WW Bridge and link up in Alex.

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