Interstate 264 in Virginia

Interstate 264 in Virginia is the 26.06-mile-long east-west urban freeway through the cities of Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. It runs from the I-64/I-664/I-264 interchange at Bowers Hill in Chesapeake, through Portsmouth and Norfolk, to near the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

The terrain I-264 crosses is a flat coastal plain as it passes through the cities of South Hampton Roads. I-264 serves as an urban freeway that serves these cities and their central business districts. I-264 serves the Norfolk Naval Shipyard-Portsmouth and the Oceana Naval Air Station. I-264 crosses two major transportation barriers, the Elizabeth River South Branch via the Downtown Tunnel and the Elizabeth River East Branch via the Berkley Bridge (details below).

The originally designated I-264 from I-64 at Bowers Hill to I-64/I-264/VA-44 near Military Circle was completed in 1972, and did not include the Downtown Tunnel / Berkley Bridge complex (completed 1952, funded with toll revenue bonds). The tunnel (which crosses the Elizabeth River, South Branch) had a single 2-lane tube, and the bridge (which crosses the Elizabeth River, East Branch) had a single 4-lane span. For years, this road had to serve the I-264 corridor. Virginia got federal Interstate funding (90% FHWA funds) approval in 1978 to upgrade that facility and include it in I-264. The 2.2-mile-long project to build a parallel 2-lane tube, parallel 4-lane bridge, renovated existing 2-lane tube, redecked existing 4-lane bridge, and upgraded urban interchanges was completed in 1991, and cost about $240 million. The dual Downtown Tunnel was finished in 1988. The dual Berkley Bridge and the Norfolk Interchange were completed in 1991. The Berkley Bridges have bascule spans (with 50 feet of vertical navigational clearance when closed), making them among the few drawbridges on the U.S. Interstate Highway System.

Map of Norfolk and Portsmouth showing I-264 and I-464 detail near tunnel and bridge.

The VA-44 Virginia Beach - Norfolk Expressway was renumbered to I-264 in July 1999. This is logical, since VA-44 was basically an eastward continuation of the original I-264, which ran through Portsmouth and Norfolk. VA-44 was built to Interstate standards. It was not originally part of the Interstate system, it was built and funded with toll revenue bonds. The Expressway opened in 1967, and ran 12 miles, from I-64/I-264 in Norfolk to the Virginia Beach oceanfront, and it was a toll road until 1995 when the tolls and toll booths were removed. The car toll was 25 cents. The original road had 4 lanes (2 each way). It was widened to 6 lanes in the 1980s, and to 8 lanes in the early 1990s.

Downtown Tunnel history from VDOT: The Norfolk-Portsmouth Bridge-Tunnel, known as the first tunnel, is called the Downtown Tunnel. This tunnel consists of parallel tunnel tubes beneath the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River with a connecting drawbridge called the Berkley Bridge, which extends over the Elizabeth River Eastern Branch. The first Downtown Tunnel, which is now the westbound lanes, opened May 23, 1952. The second tube of the Downtown Tunnel opened March 4, 1987. The length of the eastbound Downtown Tunnel, from the entrance to the exit, is 3,813 feet. The length of the westbound Downtown Tunnel, from the entrance to the exit, is 3,350 feet. The lowest point of the Downtown Tunnel is 83.3 feet below mean low water. Average daily traffic was 12,900 in 1953, the Downtown Tunnel's first complete year of operation; the AADT was 87,000 with 9% large trucks in the 1997 VDOT traffic volumes book. All tolls were removed from the tunnel on August 1, 1986.

Route openings. The 5.64 miles from I-64/US-13 at Bowers Hill to Des Moines Avenue in Portsmouth opened Dec. 29, 1964. The 1.12 miles from Des Moines Avenue to the western Downtown Tunnel approach opened in Dec. 1966. The 4.14 miles in Norfolk from VA-168 Brambleton Avenue to I-64/VA-44 opened on Dec. 1, 1967 with the adjoining part of I-64 (I-64 from US-13/VA-166 to I-464). The 0.77 miles of I-264 in Norfolk from VA-168 Brambleton Avenue to the Berkley Bridge opened July 1, 1972, completing the limited-access freeway from I-64 at Bowers Hill to I-64/VA-44 in Norfolk, albeit with the non-Interstate-standard 2-lane Downtown Tunnel and 4-lane undivided Berkley Bridge. The dual Downtown Tunnel was completed in April 1988, and the dual Berkley Bridge and the Norfolk Interchange connection to I-264 was completed in July 1991, completing I-264.

Traffic volumes on I-264 vary considerably. VDOT 1997 traffic volume data follows. Figures are published rounded to the nearest 100. From I-64 at Bowers Hill to VA-337 in Portsmouth, I-264 carries 40,000 to 45,000 annual average daily traffic (AADT) with 9% large trucks. Just west of VA-141 in Portsmouth, it carries 61,000 with 7% large trucks. The Downtown Tunnel's AADT is 87,000 with 7% large trucks. The Berkley Bridge carries 100,000 with 9% large trucks. From VA-168 to I-64 in Norfolk, I-264 carries 124,000 to 125,000 AADT with 9% large trucks. The former VA-44 section east of I-64 in Norfolk carries 4% large trucks, but total AADT varies widely, being very high on the western part, decreasing sharply to the east. It carries 189,000 just east of I-64, 182,000 just west of VA-411 Rosemont Road, 91,000 in the Laskin Road/First Colonial Road area, and 38,000 on the easternmost section from Birdneck Road to Parks Avenue. Traffic engineering counts for the first 11 months of 1999 show that the AADT on the Downtown Tunnel is 86,700.

Number of lanes. In 2000, I-264 in Virginia has 6 lanes from I-64/I-664 to Greenwood Blvd., 4 lanes from there to VA-337 Portsmouth Blvd., 6 lanes from there to VA-141 Effingham Street, 4 lanes through the Downtown Tunnel to I-464. From I-464, there are 8 lanes across the Berkley Bridge, and 8 lanes through Norfolk out to Laskin Road in Virginia Beach, and then 6 lanes to the end of the freeway at Parks Road (about 1/2 mile from the Oceanfront) where it becomes the one-way arterial pairs of 21st Street and 22nd Street.

Major Interstate widening projects on I-264: the 5 miles from VA-168 to I-64 in Norfolk was originally built with 6 lanes, and widening to 8 lanes was completed on this section in February 2000. Each inside lane each way is HOV-2 during peak hours, and unrestricted in non-peak hours.

Above, I-264 westbound in Norfolk approaching the Broad Creek bridge, with overhead signs for the Military Highway interchange in the distance. Photo taken in May 2000, and it shows the widening that was just completed. Notice the Constant-slope median barrier, which is 42 inches high, and the sides have a single slope of 79 degrees. Also notice the inner diamond lanes with the black-and-white diamond, and the double white dashed line that separates it from the next lane.

I have more information about I-264 here: Hampton Roads Area Interstates and Freeways. See Kurumi's Kurumi: 3-digit Interstates from I-64 for I-264 in Virginia.

Lead article Interstate Highway System in Virginia

Copyright 2000-2003 by Scott Kozel. All rights reserved. Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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By Scott M. Kozel, Roads to the Future

(Created 5-30-2000, updated 12-21-2003)