Parallel Midtown Tunnel / Pinners Point Interchange / Martin Luther King Freeway Extension

The proposed Parallel Midtown Tunnel / Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) / Martin Luther King Freeway Extension project in Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, would provide a freeway complex that would join three separate highway facilities together.

Article index with internal links
Introduction and History of Elizabeth River Tunnels
Public-Private Proposal to Fund Project
EIS for Route 58 / Midtown Tunnel (Including Pinners Point Interchange)
Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector)
Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) Openings
Photo Articles of the Pinners Point Interchange Project  (**Updated 2-17-2007**)
Parallel Midtown Tunnel and Martin Luther King Freeway Extension
Martin Luther King Freeway Extension
Opinion on Funding of Parallel Midtown Tunnel and MLK Freeway Extension
Sources

Introduction and History of Elizabeth River Tunnels

The Parallel Midtown Tunnel project would involve a second tube being constructed for the Elizabeth River Midtown Tunnel, providing a twin-tube facility with each tube serving two-lane one-way traffic between Portsmouth and Norfolk. The existing two-lane Midtown Tunnel tube would be completely renovated, and there would be an improvement to the interchange between the northerly tunnel approach highway and Brambleton Avenue and Hampton Boulevard.

The Port Norfolk Connector in Portsmouth is the 1.5-mile-long extension of the VA-164 Western Freeway to the southerly Midtown Tunnel approach highway (US-58, the Martin Luther King Freeway), including a new directional interchange (the Pinners Point Interchange) between VA-164 and the US-58 MLK Freeway, and expanded MLK Freeway. This project has been built and was completed in September 2005.

The Martin Luther King Freeway Extension in Portsmouth would be the extension of the southerly Midtown Tunnel approach highway (formerly known as the London Expressway) for 0.7-mile southward from London Boulevard to I-264, including building a three-way interchange with I-264.

The result would be a three-leg freeway complex that trafficwise would include an inner loop from I-264 in Portsmouth to Brambleton Avenue and Hampton Boulevard in downtown Norfolk, plus a complete east-west freeway from I-664 and the Churchland area of Suffolk to Brambleton Avenue and Hampton Boulevard in downtown Norfolk, and each would utilize the expanded Midtown Tunnel to cross the Elizabeth River. VA-164 and the MLK Freeway would also serve as a northwestward freeway branch from the I-264 east-west urban freeway.

Project location is shown with orange highlighter. Existing freeways VA-164, I-264 and I-464 are shown in red.

Midtown Tunnel history from VDOT: The Norfolk-Portsmouth Tunnel, known as the second tunnel, is called the Midtown Tunnel. This tunnel is a single two-way tube beneath the main channel of the Elizabeth River between Norfolk and Portsmouth. The Midtown Tunnel opened September 6, 1962. The length of the Midtown Tunnel, from the entrance to the exit, is 4,194 feet. The lowest point of the Midtown Tunnel is 87.8 feet below mean low water. Annual average daily traffic (AADT) was 8,400 in 1963, the Midtown Tunnel's first complete year of operation; today the AADT is over 46,000 (AADT was 39,000 in the 1995 VDOT traffic volumes book, and 46,000 in the 2001 VDOT traffic volumes book), and it is the busiest two-lane highway in Virginia. All tolls were removed from the tunnel on August 1, 1986.

The Western Freeway, Virginia Route 164, was first proposed in a regional transportation study in 1965, was included in regional transportation plans from then onward, and it was completed from I-664 and US-17 at Churchland in the City of Suffolk to Port Norfolk in the City of Portsmouth in 1992. This includes the 3,630-foot-long high-level West Norfolk Bridge over the Elizabeth River Western Branch, which was completed in 1979 as the first Western Freeway segment to open, 1.2 miles of VA-164 between West Norfolk Road and Bayview Boulevard including the bridge, and this first segment of the Western Freeway was accelerated in schedule because the original West Norfolk Bridge was wearing out and needed to be replaced soon, and the highest part of the current bridge provides 45 feet of vertical navigational clearance and 100 feet of horizontal navigational clearance over a marine channel. The rest of VA-164 west of the West Norfolk Bridge was built 1986-1992. The original West Norfolk Bridge was a low-level narrow two-lane wooden bridge with a drawspan, the bridge was built in the 1920s, and its south end was at Bayview Boulevard close to the south end of the new bridge, and its north end was at Prospect Avenue about 1/2 mile east of the north end of the new bridge. The Western Freeway is a 4-lane highway built to urban Interstate standards and designated as VA-164, and all of it east of I-664 was designed with a median wide enough for future widening to six lanes (three lanes each way with full-width left and right paved shoulders), and also with enough additional space in the median (beyond that needed for six lane widening) for a future relocated two-track freight railroad line, for high-speed freight access to a future marine terminal on the Elizabeth River in the West Norfolk section of the city of Portsmouth. This 5-mile-long relocated freight railroad line (of Commonwealth Railway, Inc., a Suffolk-West Norfolk short-line railroad), between I-664/Pughsville Road and VA-164/Coast Guard Boulevard, would utilize a portion of the median of I-664 also, and highway mainline grade separations were provided in the original design to provide 5 places where the railroad line and its spurs would enter and leave the highway rights-of-way. The construction of the West Norfolk marine terminal was begun in April 2004 by the Maersk company, with completion planned in 2007. According to a VDOT engineer who is working on the project to provide $20 million worth of rail and road improvements to serve the new marine terminal, the highway median relocated freight railroad line is not planned yet, but is it proposed to be built to serve a future Virginia Port Authority marine terminal which is planned to be built off of the eastern shoreline of Craney Island; and he said that the relocated freight railroad line would cost about $50 million to build in today's dollars. Other 2004 news articles said that this Craney Island VPA marine terminal is planned to begin operation in 2017, so that is way off in the future. A new interchange with VA-164 for the Maersk marine terminal, was completed in January 2007.

VA-164 Western Freeway, looking eastward from VA-135 overpass. Notice the extra-wide median and the sound barriers. Photo by Scott Kozel, March 2004. Click image for large image (size 96 kilobytes).

The easternmost 1.5 miles of VA-164 was completed in September 2005, as mentioned above; this was called the Western Freeway Extension in planning studies and in a VDOT Location Public Hearing brochure from a Location Public Hearing on September 26, 1979. It was more recently called the Pinners Point Connector, and it is now called the Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) by VDOT.

This map shows the location of the current West Norfolk Bridge that was completed in 1979. Its southern abutment is near where the original bridge's southern abutment was, and its northern abutment is 1/3 mile west of where the original bridge's northern abutment was. This map shows the location of the original West Norfolk Bridge. It extended from Progress Street southward across the river.

Each image can be clicked for a large image.

These are excerpts of maps from the Final Environmental Impact Statement, EIS Number FHWA-VA-EIS-89-03-F, Route 58 / Midtown Tunnel (Including Pinners Point Interchange), approved by FHWA, 11-8-1996.

West Norfolk and Port Norfolk are not cities, they are neighborhoods in the city of Portsmouth.

Here's a map scan from a September 26, 1979 VDOT Location Public Hearing brochure for the Western Freeway Extension, showing a detailed plan view of the alternate that was chosen later for design and construction.

The current design is similar to this, although the project includes improvements to the MLK Freeway from VA-141 London Blvd. to near the Midtown Tunnel portal.

 

Click for larger map images: Medium (97K), Large (143K), Extra Large (190K).

The eventual need for a parallel Midtown Tunnel has been recognized since about 1980. Expanding the Midtown Tunnel was a second priority to expanding the Downtown Tunnel, though.

In 1976, FHWA approval was provided for Interstate 90% federal-aid to expand the Downtown Tunnel/Berkley Bridge complex. The expansion was started in 1982, and the parallel 2-lane Downtown Tunnel opened in 1987, the rehabilitated original 2-lane Downtown Tunnel reopened in 1988, the I-464 Berkley Interchange opened in 1989, and the entire project was completed in 1991, with the completion of the parallel 4-lane Berkley Bridge, the rehabilitated original 4-lane Berkley Bridge, and the Norfolk Interchange with I-264, Waterfront Drive, Saint Paul's Boulevard and Tidewater Drive. This entire 2.2-mile-long highway segment cost $250 million to expand, and became part of Interstate 264.

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. Annual average daily traffic (AADT) was 12,900 in 1953, the Downtown Tunnel's first complete year of operation. The AADT was over 87,000 with 9% large trucks in the 1997 VDOT traffic volumes book, and VDOT reports AADT of 95,232 for 2003. All tolls were removed from the tunnel on August 1, 1986.

The Parallel Midtown Tunnel / Port Norfolk Connector / Martin Luther King Freeway Extension project was estimated in 1999 to cost about $600 million dollars. A tremendous amount of structure work will be required, not just for the new Elizabeth River tunnel, but also for a 3/4-mile-long offshore freeway viaduct in the Elizabeth River at Port Norfolk in Portsmouth, plus the elevated ramps at the directional Pinners Point Interchange, plus the elevated MLK Freeway extension and the interchange with I-264, plus a complete renovation of the original Midtown Tunnel. Finding funding of course is a challenge, and local and state officials have been studying how to fund this needed but expensive project. It is on the National Highway System, but to my knowledge, no proposal for Interstate system funding (90% federal funds from the Highway Trust Fund) has ever existed for this project.

Public-Private Proposal to Fund Project

A funding proposal in June 1999 attracted a lot of attention, and it was a proposal by a private enterprise called Hampton Roads Public-Private Development, to provide 90% or more of the funds through private investment capital, under the provisions of Virginia's PPTA, the Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA), with the private firm recouping the investment through revenues from the re-tolling of the Midtown Tunnel and the Downtown Tunnel.

Electronic toll collection would be used so as to avoid building traditional toll plazas. A lot of local people thought that this proposal was a good idea, but the city of Portsmouth had major concerns about the reinstitution of tolls; since the Norfolk/Hampton Roads region has progressively eliminated highway tolls because many local people believed that tolls were hindering commerce and placing an unfair burden on the users of those facilities, and a couple economic studies were performed by the local metropolitan planning organization in the 1970s, that demonstrated the significant economic benefits that would accrue to the public by eliminating the tolls on the crossings of the Elizabeth River and Hampton Roads.

A Virginian-Pilot newspaper article was published April 7, 1999, called "Split Council In Norfolk Approaches Toll Vote". Excerpts follow (blue text):
Tolls were proposed by a group of private road builders, the Hampton Roads Public Private Development, under a state law that permits such financing to accelerate road projects when state money isn't available.

The plan calls for tolls on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels that would remain in place for 50 years. The toll would be 50 cents for the first eight years, but eventually increase to about $2.70. Opposition from either city could delay or kill the road projects, including a second Midtown tunnel and expansion of Martin Luther King Boulevard in Portsmouth. Many government and business leaders consider a second tube critical to easing traffic congestion that could stifle commerce and economic development in the region.

A Virginian-Pilot newspaper article was published March 25, 1999, called "Portsmouth's Toll Stance Causes Alarm In Norfolk". Excerpts follow (blue text):
Norfolk city leaders voiced concern Wednesday that the Portsmouth City Council's apparent opposition to tolls could delay or possibly kill key road projects important to both cities.

Meanwhile, Portsmouth citizens, business and political leaders are pushing to find alternative funding sources for more than $600 million in projects that include a second Midtown tube, a new Pinners Point interchange, the Martin Luther King Freeway extension and improvements to the Brambleton Avenue interchange.

Hampton Roads Public-Private Development, a private development group, has been working for the past two and a half years to finance the $644 million package of projects. The Pinners Point Interchange is slated for state funding and will not be affected by the toll proposal. Construction will start this summer. However, the other projects likely won't be funded by VDOT for another 20 years.

According to the March 25, 1999 article, other funding sources were being suggested, including impact fees, Navy funds, a regional gasoline/diesel tax, or some combination of these, with some kind of a payment mechanism to the private investment firm.

As mentioned in the Virginian-Pilot article, one of the projects was already programmed for construction by VDOT. The Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) was listed as an Urban Project in the Revised 1998-99 CTB VDOT 6-Year Improvement Program, with construction to start in mid-1999. This was postponed, although construction finally began in April 2002.

The PPTA proposal did not come to fruition, though, as Portsmouth's elected officials continued to oppose the re-tolling of the Midtown Tunnel and the Downtown Tunnel, and the proposal was withdrawn in 2000.

EIS for Route 58 / Midtown Tunnel (Including Pinners Point Interchange)

Since the late 1970s, various environmental impact statements (EIS) have been prepared by VDOT and FHWA (Federal Highway Administration), for these projects, and various location and design public hearings have been conducted by VDOT, and various public hearings have been held by VDOT while these studies have been underway. The most recent EIS was completed and approved by FHWA in 1996, and it included the Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) and the Parallel Midtown Tunnel. Generally, the "shelf life" of a completed and FHWA-approved Final Environmental Impact Statement on a project is 3 years, and an EIS Reevaluation study and document needs to be prepared after that point if the project is not yet under construction, before the project can be constructed.

Final Environmental Impact Statement with Section 4(f) Analysis
(EIS Number FHWA-VA-EIS-89-03-F),
Route 58 / Midtown Tunnel (Including Pinners Point Interchange)
Federal Project Number STP-5403( )
VDOT Project Number 0058-965-102,PE-100
Cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia
Submitted by The Federal Highway Administration of
The U.S. Department of Transportation and
The Virginia Department of Transportation,
Approved by VDOT 10-21-1996, by FHWA 11-8-1996.

SUMMARY - Description of Proposed Action, page i (Quote in blue text):
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is planning to construct a limited access highway and a tunnel that will provide for east-west travel linking Route 58 and the Route 164 (Western Freeway) in Portsmouth to Brambleton Avenue in Norfolk. The proposed project consists of phased construction of one (1) limited access highway facilities at the Pinners Point Interchange and Connector in Portsmouth, (2) improvements to the Hampton Boulevard / Brambleton Avenue Interchange in Norfolk, (3) a second Midtown Tunnel tube parallel to and just downstream of the existing tube. It is anticipated that construction of the Pinners Point Interchange and Connector will begin after 1998, however, due to funding constraints and competing priorities, the tunnel portion of the project and associated connection on the Norfolk end are not likely to be funded in the near or intermediate future.

The proposed project will begin at the east end of the West Norfolk Bridge and proceed eastward with a six-lane roadway for a distance of approximately 2,600 feet to an interchange with Route 58. The interchange will be located just west of the Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT) and will be configured as a three-legged directional facility providing local access to the PMT and to the Port Norfolk section of Portsmouth. From the interchange, the project will proceed eastward under the Elizabeth River via a tunnel aligned approximately parallel to the existing two-lane Midtown Tunnel. The river crossing will have a length of approximately 4,200 feet and the project will connect in Norfolk to an existing interchange with Hampton Boulevard and Brambleton Avenue.

Traffic volumes projection from the 1996 EIS:

Traffic Volumes, Average Daily Traffic (ADT)

1994 Base Year Traffic (Existing Conditions)
30,600 - West Norfolk Bridge
35,000 - Midtown Tunnel
25,000 - MLK Freeway south of Cleveland St.

Year 2015 Traffic Projections (No-Build Alternative)
43,600 - West Norfolk Bridge
50,000 - Midtown Tunnel
36,000 - MLK Freeway south of Cleveland St.

Year 2015 Traffic Projections (Build Alternatives)
80,000 - West Norfolk Bridge
78,000 - Midtown Tunnel
68,600 - MLK Freeway south of Cleveland St.

The Year 2015 Traffic Projections (Build Alternatives) assumes the completion of the MLK Freeway Extension to I-264.

Here's a map scan from the Final Environmental Impact Statement, EIS Number FHWA-VA-EIS-89-03-F, Route 58 / Midtown Tunnel (Including Pinners Point Interchange), approved by FHWA, 11-8-1996.

This shows the approved alternative. The final design of the Port Norfolk Connector bridge was identical to what is shown here, and the final design of the Pinners Point Interchange is nearly identical to what is shown here. The Parallel Midtown Tunnel would be built about 150 feet north of the existing tunnel.

Click for larger map images: Medium (257 K), Large (667 K).

Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector)

The Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) in Portsmouth, Virginia, has been completed, with all roadways fully opened by September, 2005, and the prime contractor was Tidewater Skanska, Inc. This project is the 1.5-mile-long extension of the VA-164 Western Freeway to the southerly Midtown Tunnel approach highway (Martin Luther King Freeway), including a new 3-level directional interchange (the Pinners Point Interchange) with the MLK Freeway, and the project includes reconstructing the MLK Freeway between London Boulevard and the Midtown Tunnel, including a full local interchange with all three legs of the highway complex at the east edge of Port Norfolk.

Completed Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector), looking northwest across the Port Norfolk section of the City of Portsmouth, across the Elizabeth River Western Branch, toward the West Norfolk section of the City of Portsmouth. The James River is in the upper part of the photo. The US-58 Martin Luther Freeway is to the lower left, the US-58 Midtown Tunnel approach highway is to the lower right, and the Portsmouth Marine Terminal is to the lower right. The VA-164 Western Freeway crosses the river and heads west to Churchland.  The Pinners Point Interchange is in the lower right, and it connects US-58 to VA-164. Photo by VDOT, November 2005. Click image for large image (size 294 kilobytes).

Various names have been used for this project, including "Western Freeway Extension", "Port Norfolk Connector", "Pinners Point Connector" and "Pinners Point Interchange". The name "Pinners Point Interchange" seems to be the name commonly used by VDOT and the news media, during the period when the project has been under construction. The name used on the title sheet of the project's final design plans, is "Pinners Point Interchange". The name used for the project in the VDOT Six-Year Program is "Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector)", and that is the name that I tend to consider to be the most official and the most correct, since the project contains two main components, the three-leg directional interchange and the elevated freeway connector to the Western Freeway. Pinners Point is the name of the peninsula-like land feature that projects out into the Elizabeth River, generally the land area with the Portsmouth Marine Terminal and the area just south of PMT.

"Construction Will Begin on Long-Awaited Pinners Point Interchange", VDOT news release, November 15, 2001, (excerpts in blue text):
The Commonwealth Transportation Board at its monthly meeting today gave the green light for construction to begin on the Pinners Point Interchange in Portsmouth. The interchange will provide a more direct route to major ports with access to I-664 and the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel as well as U.S. Route 17 via the Route 164 Western Freeway. The $136.1 million contract award is the largest single contract ever awarded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. It was awarded to Tidewater Skanska, Inc. of Norfolk. Under a relatively new bidding practice, the Virginia Department of Transportation sought bids based, not only on project cost, but time it would take to complete the project.

Tidewater Skanska bid the project to be completed in 14 months less than VDOT had projected, " said Acting Chief Engineer Frank Gee. "The bid also provides for an incentive of $20,000 a day up to 300 days for early completion and a penalty of $20,000 a day for each day the project goes beyond the contract specifications." Gee said VDOT is moving more towards these contractual arrangements in bidding out certain projects to get them built quicker. The contractual practice was used on some phases of the Springfield Interchange in Northern Virginia.

The Pinners Point Interchange project will result in a safer, less congested pathway through the Port Norfolk area, which includes the Portsmouth Marine Terminal and the Virginia Port Authority. When complete, the project links the Western Freeway corridor to U.S. 58 and the Midtown Tunnel connecting Norfolk and Portsmouth.

The news release went on to say that the 1.54-mile-long project begins near the east end of the West Norfolk Bridge and proceeds east with a bridge over the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River to a point just north of Bayview Boulevard. The highway continues southeasterly across property owned by TARMAC, Inc. and the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, connecting with Route 58 (Martin Luther King Freeway) and the Midtown Tunnel.

The new bridge over the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River, is not a cross-river bridge, but is an offshore avoidance alignment where the bridge goes out offshore to bypass the Port Norfolk neighborhood and then the bridge later returns to the same shoreline. The news release goes on to say that this 3,500-foot-long bridge will have a 6-lane divided roadway and will connect the West Norfolk Bridge to the Pinners Point Interchange. All main roads in the Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) project will be designed as divided highways with two lanes of traffic in each direction, separated by a median. The news release said that construction of this project would begin in early 2002.

The eastern 1,200 feet of the 3,630-foot-long West Norfolk Bridge will be reconstructed and realigned slightly northward so that it will make a seamless freeway connection with the new Port Norfolk Connector bridge.

The completed VA-164 Western Freeway will no longer provide highway access between the West Norfolk Bridge and the Port Norfolk neighborhood. The new Pinners Point Interchange will provide full local access to all three legs of the freeway complex, just east of the Port Norfolk neighborhood. It was the main consensus among the citizens in the Port Norfolk neighborhood, to restrict access so as to eliminate the through traffic, which comprises about 80% of the traffic that currently passes through the neighborhood.

The offshore freeway viaduct seems like it would be a viewshed problem, since the viaduct will be in the viewshed of a person looking across the shoreline out into the Elizabeth River. I've looked at the mostly-completed viaduct in April 2004, and most of the view still exists between the bridge piers and the bridge superstructure, and the freeway roadway is 33 feet above river mean high water level. The view out into the river is mainly that of an industrial harbor. News reports have indicated that the main consensus among the citizens in the Port Norfolk neighborhood, is that the benefits of the offshore freeway (elimination of most of the traffic in the neighborhood, reduced noise, increased property values, with the highway being physically outside of the neighborhood) far outweighs the negative impact of the reduced viewshed across the north shoreline of the river; and that overall this is a very beneficial project for Port Norfolk.

"Pinners Point Interchange a Go at Midtown Tunnel", by the Virginian-Pilot, November 16, 2001. Excerpts follow (blue text):
A stroke of a pen Thursday assured residents of Portsmouth's Port Norfolk that relief is on the way from years of foundation rattling, nerve-wracking, bumper-to-bumper traffic through their community. A state highway panel awarded a contract to build the long-awaited Pinners Point interchange. In addition to restoring tranquility to a historic neighborhood, the new highway will save commuters valuable time -- time now spent winding through narrow neighborhood streets on the way to and from the Midtown Tunnel.

Construction will begin early next year, but the 1.5-mile project won't bring relief until late 2004 when it's finished. Since the Western Freeway and Interstate 664 opened in 1992, tens of thousands of cars and trucks a day have poured into the neighborhood.

Moving that traffic to what's known as the Pinners Point Connector has been in the works for many years. But the project got delayed by budget shortfalls, a debate over tolls, right of way issues and environmental reviews. It was even included in a failed private proposal to build the interchange as well as a second Midtown Tunnel. The road will help ease traffic in the neighborhood, improve access for industrial truck traffic and connect the growing suburban areas of Churchland, Western Branch and Suffolk to Norfolk and downtown Portsmouth.

The Virginian Pilot article went on to say that the $136 million contract awarded to Tidewater Skanska Inc. of Norfolk, was the largest construction contract ever awarded by VDOT (it was later superceded in dollar amount by one of the US-1 Interchange contracts on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project). It also said that the project was originally designed as a toll road, but that a financial agreement was worked out whereby the City of Portsmouth will contribute $74 million over the next 16 years, so that tolls will not need to be used. The road will provide a direct connection from the Western Freeway to the Midtown Tunnel and Martin Luther King Freeway. The highway will cross over the Elizabeth River, the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, the concrete company Tarmac America Inc., an abandoned wastewater treatment plant and railroad tracks.

State budget shortfalls threatened the contract that was awarded in November 2001, but the funding was confirmed, and construction began in April 2002. The original specified completion date for the contract was December 20, 2005, but the contractor determined a plan to have the contract completed a whole year earlier, on December 29, 2004.

"Contract is Signed On Pinner's Point Interchange in Portsmouth", VDOT news release, March 7, 2002, (excerpts in blue text):
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) signed a contract today to begin construction on the Pinner's Point Interchange in Portsmouth. The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) awarded the $136 million contract to Tidewater Skanska, Inc. of Norfolk last November. VDOT put the project on hold due to revenue shortfalls as a result of the declining economy. "VDOT has worked extremely hard to get this critical project back on track," said VDOT Commissioner Ray D. Pethtel. "Because of project management controls that VDOT has already made, we now have the cash flow to get started with this very large construction project." "I am very pleased with the signing of the Pinner's Point Interchange contract," said Governor Mark R. Warner.

Construction on the project will begin in early April and is slated for completion in late 2004. While the CTB awarded the contract for $136 million, a total of $162 million is budgeted for construction costs. As the project nears completion, VDOT plans to install a traffic management system including traffic cameras and other safety devices that will be controlled by the Smart Traffic Center in Hampton Roads.

The VDOT website has this website link about the project:
Pinners Point Interchange

Pinners Point Interchange project purpose (quote from VDOT website in blue text):
The project serves three major purposes. It removes traffic from the historic Port Norfolk neighborhood, provides a more direct route for industrial traffic to and from the terminal, and ensures faster, easier access to the Midtown Tunnel for commuters. When the project is complete, Port Norfolk residents will see a reduction in traffic by more than 80 percent. Access to the Portsmouth Marine Terminal also will be smoother, and travel to the Midtown Tunnel will be quicker.

"Pinners Point Road Project Offers Big Payoffs for Many", by The Virginian-Pilot, January 30, 2004. Excerpts (in blue text):
The Pinners Point Interchange now rising over the Portsmouth Marine Terminal may deliver what few road projects ever promise anymore: an improved way of life for nearly everyone it will touch. Marine-terminal truckers can expect faster and safer access to the Western Freeway. Commuters from new neighborhoods in northern Suffolk and Chesapeake’s Western Branch will find trips to the Midtown Tunnel easier, even though the two-lane tunnel itself is not being widened. The Virginia Department of Transportation may bask in the glory of achieving a goal that has recently proved difficult: completion of a highway job on time and mostly on budget. For residents of Port Norfolk, just west of the marine terminal, the project may offer the greatest payoff of all: a return to the peace and quiet that defined life along this stretch of the Elizabeth River a few decades ago.

For that reason alone, Civic League member Richard Ivy wants a catered party to celebrate the interchange’s first important milestone: the planned April opening of a bridge linking the Western Freeway to the Midtown Tunnel.

An estimated 28,000 tractor-trailers and other vehicles rumble daily past the century-old Victorian homes on Bayview Boulevard and Chautauqua Avenue, two of Port Norfolk’s busiest streets. An estimated 22,000 of those would be taken off those streets when the more direct link between the freeway and the tunnel opens. Other avenues in the neighborhood of more than 700 homes will get a break, too, because motorists won’t shortcut along them anymore to sneak around traffic congestion.

“The situation at Bayview … has been the city’s primary traffic debacle since the Western Freeway was completed across Churchland in the early ’90s,” said Richard A. Hartman, the city’s chief engineer. “What you basically have is an interstate ending in a local street.” Portsmouth placed such a high priority on the project, which was first talked about nearly 30 years ago, that it committed $55 million of federal grant money to it. That’s far more than the normal city share for such a project and helped keep the interchange toll-free.

The original contract anticipated Pinners Point to cost $136.1 million, including the Portsmouth share. Work began in the spring of 2002. The project, currently VDOT’s biggest in South Hampton Roads, is scheduled to be completed in December.

For VDOT and Tidewater Skanska, the prime contractor, the job has not been without surprises.

Almost immediately, workers found underground utilities that were not on any plans. That forced some unexpected and costly relocations. Another complication came when port officials requested that a planned lot for storing shipping containers be enlarged to compensate for land taken from the marine terminal.

Construction was slowed in 2003 by the second-largest number of local rain days in 55 years; the loss of a crane, which fell into the water and had to be retrieved; and the disruption of deliveries to the job site after Hurricane Isabel flooded the Midtown Tunnel in September.

The complications have pushed the project cost to $145.7 million, but that is still within the 10 percent variance that planners of many big highway contracts use to deal with unexpected problems, said P. Denis Gribok, VDOT’s resident engineer.

Buddy Watson, project director for Skanska, swells with pride when he talks about the work that has gone into Pinners Point, about the 270 shafts drilled 100 feet into the earth to support various fly-overs, or the elaborate orchestrating of man and machine that is the routine of freeway construction. “It’s a big project,” he said. “No bones about it.”

For VDOT officials, however, Pinners Point has been a source of pride. Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet credited a VDOT team – including Michael J. Johnson, the engineering manager, and Gribok – and Skanska for keeping the work on schedule. “The project got off to a rocky start when they ran into a bunch of stuff underground,” Shucet said. “Rather than come to the table and ask us to pay them to extend the deadline, the contractor came to the table with ideas about how to be on time.”

In 1998, city records indicate that 26 homes were sold in Port Norfolk for an average price of $72,393. Last year, 61 homes changed hands for an average sale price of $112,616, and some homes are now fetching more than $220,000. Some of the increase can be attributed to an overall rise in home values, but Daniel said, “most of it was because the people knew that Pinners Point was coming through.”

The VDOT Dashboard entry on September 25, 2005, for project
Rte 164 Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector),
state project 0164-124-F04,PE101,RW101,C501,B638,B639,B640,B641,B642,B643,
had the following data points:
Construction Company - Tidewater Skanska, Inc.
Contract Start Date - 3/15/2002
Contract Original Specified Completion Date - December 20, 2005
Contract Current Specified Completion Date - July 21, 2005
Estimated Completion Date - November 19, 2005
Contract Award Amount - $136,139,315
Cost of Work To Date - $146,404,381

Current Contract Amount - $150,922,326
Inspector's Estimated Amount to Complete - $136,139,315(???)
Current Specified Completion Date < Today
Project 10.8% Over Original Contract Award Amount

The VDOT Dashboard entry on April 30, 2005, for project
Rte 164 Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector),
state project 0164-124-F04,PE101,RW101,C501,B638,B639,B640,B641,B642,B643,
had the following data points:
Construction Company - Tidewater Skanska, Inc.
Contract Start Date - 3/15/2002
Contract Original Specified Completion Date - 12/20/2005
Contract Current Specified Completion Date - 12/29/2004
Estimated Completion Date - 7/19/2005
Contract Award Amount - $136,139,315
Cost of Work To Date - $
133,728,395
Current Contract Amount - $144,991,939
Inspector's Estimated Amount to Complete - $153,124,609
Current Specified Completion Date < Today
Project 12.4% Over Original Contract Award Amount

The VDOT Dashboard entry on February 28, 2005, for project
Rte 164 Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector),
had the following data points:
Construction Company - Tidewater Skanska, Inc.
Contract Start Date - 3/15/2002
Contract Original Specified Completion Date - 12/20/2005
Contract Current Specified Completion Date - 12/29/2004
Estimated Completion Date - 6/1/2005
% Critical Work Completed - 98.6%
Contract Award Amount - $136,139,315
Cost of Work To Date - $126,886,693
Current Contract Amount - $144,554,143
Inspector's Estimated Amount to Complete - $153,124,609
Current Specified Completion Date < Today
Project 12.4% Over Original Contract Award Amount

The VDOT Dashboard entry on October 27, 2004, for project
Rte 164 Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector),
had the following data points:
Construction Company - Tidewater Skanska, Inc.
Contract Start Date - 3/15/2002
Contract Original Specified Completion Date - 12/20/2005
Contract Current Specified Completion Date - 12/29/2004
Estimated Completion Date - 6/1/2005
% Critical Work Completed - 88.6%
Contract Award Amount - $136,139,315
Cost of Work To Date - $120,284,506
Current Contract Amount - $144,431,628
Inspector's Estimated Amount to Complete - $153,124,609
Project <1% Behind Schedule
Project 12.4% Over Original Contract Award Amount

The VDOT Dashboard entry on May 26, 2004, for project
Rte 164 Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector),
had the following data points:
Construction Company - Tidewater Skanska, Inc.
Contract Start Date - 3/15/2002
Contract Original Specified Completion Date - 12/20/2005
Contract Current Specified Completion Date - 12/29/2004
Estimated Completion Date - 12/29/2004
% Critical Work Completed - 76.3%
Contract Award Amount - $136,139,315
Cost of Work To Date - $103,998,809
Current Contract Amount - $144,133,291
Inspector's Estimated Amount to Complete - $145,731,644
Project <1% Behind Schedule
Project 7.0% Over Original Contract Award Amount


The VDOT Six-Year Program FY2005-2010, entry for the Pinner's Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) project, lists these budgeted costs (in dollars):
Preliminary Engineering .....  18,383,000
Right-of-Way ................   7,649,000
Construction ................ 161,166,000
Total Cost .................. 187,198,000

Pinners Point Interchange construction at left edge of photo, with Port Norfolk neighborhood in center part of photo, with new Port Norfolk Connector freeway bridge under construction in center of photo, with south end of the West Norfolk Bridge in right side of photo. Looking south. Photo by VDOT, February 2004. Click image for large image (size 424 kilobytes).

Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) Openings

The first segment of the project opened to traffic on Sunday, September 19, 2004. The VA-164 West Norfolk Bridge extension opened, and new ramps opened, including the two ramps between the Midtown Tunnel and the West Norfolk Bridge, and a local ramp connecting the Port Norfolk area to the West Norfolk Bridge. The VA-164 West Norfolk Bridge passes over the Elizabeth River Western Branch, and the Port Norfolk Connector portion opened on its first 2-lane 2-way roadway.

"VDOT To Open Much Anticipated Portion of Western Freeway at Pinners Point this Weekend",  VDOT news release, September 17, 2004, (excerpts in blue text):
Overcoming a week of heavy rainfall, VDOT crews will shift traffic onto a new portion of the Western Freeway on Sunday, Sept. 19, and provide motorists with direct access to and from the Midtown Tunnel on I-164. The shift will also remove traffic from the Port Norfolk neighborhood. “This shift is a major milestone for the project. Not only will it remove 80 percent of traffic from the Port Norfolk neighborhood, it will also improve commuter access to and from the Midtown Tunnel and streamline industrial access to the Portsmouth Marine Terminal,” says Norfolk Resident Engineer Denis Gribok, P.E. “We’ve been looking forward to this traffic shift since the spring. We’ve done a significant amount of traffic engineering and studies to assure that this shift will go smoothly.”

Weather permitting, crews will finish shifting existing traffic from the West Norfolk Bridge onto the newly constructed eastbound lanes of the Western Freeway on Sunday afternoon by 5 p.m. Traffic will continue to flow one lane in each direction until the project is completed this spring. Variable message signs will alert motorists to the new traffic pattern.

All ramp access to Bayview Boulevard from the Western Freeway will be permanently closed following Sunday’s traffic shift. Industrial and local traffic coming from the Western Freeway should use the Cleveland Street exit ramp (also known as Railroad Avenue), to access the Portsmouth Marine Terminal and Port Norfolk Neighborhood. Port Norfolk traffic wishing to access the Midtown Tunnel should continue to use Cleveland Street.


"Pinners Point Opening Eases Commute", by The Virginian-Pilot, September 21, 2004. Excerpts (in blue text):
The partial opening of the Pinners Point interchange produced a smooth morning commute Monday except for some minor problems that engineers hope additional signs will correct. 'The opening allowed thousands of motorists to travel directly to the Midtown Tunnel from the Western Freeway and avoid a lengthy roundabout through Port Norfolk that had been the norm for years. Residents of Port Norfolk welcomed the opening because it diverted thousands of trucks bound for the Portsmouth Marine Terminal from their neighborhood.

'“We had a couple of kinks this morning, and we’re putting some additional signs out that people recommended, but it was the first day of a new traffic pattern and it was about everything we expected,” said Tiffany Elliott, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. She said the Portsmouth Police Department suggested that signs be posted to remind drivers that slowing down will help them make the transition to a new traffic pattern. The signs were added Monday afternoon throughout the project site. “It went well,” said P. Denis Gribok , VDOT’s resident engineer for Hampton Roads.

The biggest problem appeared at what engineers admit is an unusual feature to the new interchange – a temporary stop sign in the middle of the West Norfolk Bridge. It is needed to allow eastbound tunnel-bound traffic to cross in front of westbound traffic coming up a ramp that leads from Port Norfolk and Cleveland Street.

Opening the next phase in the project will happen in about 60 days when more lanes are opened on U.S. 58. When that part is completed, commuters will take one bridge to reach the Midtown and a separate, parallel bridge to reach the Western Freeway, and the stop sign will be removed.

I drove through the project area on the following Saturday, 6 days after it opened.

A section of the project was opened to traffic on April 24, 2004, but had to be closed 5 days later, and the existing roads reconfigured to their original configuration, because not enough of the project was complete to avoid greater overall traffic congestion in the Port Norfolk area. This April opening involved opening 2 lanes extending the VA-164 West Norfolk Bridge to Cleveland Street at the east edge of the Port Norfolk neighborhood, and this freeway section had 2-lane 2-way traffic.

The September 18, 2004 opening is working out well trafficwise. Like the April 24th opening, this opening includes the first 2 lanes of the extension of the VA-164 Western Freeway to Cleveland Street, with 2-lane 2-way traffic, but it also includes the two ramp connections between the Western Freeway and the Midtown Tunnel, and a better connection between the Midtown Tunnel and the MLK Freeway which now uses a rebuilt bridge over Cleveland Street that was not complete in April. All these movements are on one-lane roadways that will have 2 or more lanes when the whole project is complete. There is a center lane for left turns controlled by a temporary stop sign (replaced with a temporary traffic signal two weeks later), for eastbound VA-164 traffic heading to the Midtown Tunnel, where they turn across westbound VA-164 and utilize a temporary one-lane ramp movement to access the Midtown Tunnel. There are temporary local ramp connections between the Western Freeway and the Port Norfolk area and Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT), and there are temporary local ramp connections between the Midtown Tunnel and the Port Norfolk area and PMT.

With the opening of the VA-164 Western Freeway extension, all ramp access to Bayview Boulevard in Port Norfolk is permanently closed. The West Norfolk Bridge and Bayview Boulevard formerly made a seamless connection as one continuous thoroughfare.

The eastern 1,200 feet of the 3,630-foot-long 4-lane West Norfolk Bridge is being reconstructed and realigned slightly northward so that it will make a seamless freeway connection with the new offshore Port Norfolk Connector bridge which extends the Western Freeway to the Midtown Tunnel approach highway.

In the first phase of the project, the westbound side of the West Norfolk Bridge was closed so that the eastern 1,200 feet of the westbound side of the bridge could be demolished, and so that the westbound side of the new Port Norfolk Connector bridge could be built and tied into the West Norfolk Bridge; and 2-lane 2-way traffic was temporarily routed onto the eastbound side of the West Norfolk Bridge.

In the second phase of the project that opened to traffic on September 18th, 2-lane 2-way traffic is temporarily routed onto the westbound side of the West Norfolk Bridge, with 2-lane 2-way traffic seamlessly flowing to/from the westbound side of the new Port Norfolk Connector bridge (the extension of the West Norfolk Bridge). Now the eastern 1,200 feet of the eastbound side of the West Norfolk Bridge can be demolished, and the eastbound side of the new Port Norfolk Connector bridge can be built and tied into the West Norfolk Bridge, completing the seamless extension of the West Norfolk Bridge.

The local combined offramp for VA-164 eastbound (from West Norfolk Bridge) and US-58 southbound (from Midtown Tunnel) is being temporarily used for 2-lane 2-way VA-164 traffic. That ramp ends at a signalized intersection with Cleveland Street. Segments of the over-water VA-164 Port Norfolk Connector bridge opened also, about 1,000 feet of the westbound bridge and then a crossover to the remainder of the eastbound bridge, and a 2-lane 2-way roadway is open through this whole area between the existing West Norfolk Bridge and Cleveland Street near the entrance to the Portsmouth Marine Terminal.

Bayview Boulevard and Chautauqua Avenue skirt the perimeter of the Port Norfolk neighborhood in Portsmouth, and they connected the VA-164 Western Freeway to the Midtown Tunnel and the Portsmouth Marine Terminal. Mount Vernon Avenue runs north-south and passes through the center of the Port Norfolk neighborhood, and connects to Bayview Boulevard a few blocks east of the former end of the West Norfolk Bridge, so Mount Vernon Avenue served as a north-south thoroughfare between central Portsmouth and the VA-164 Western Freeway. The Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) has replaced those through traffic functions.

It was interesting to drive the first installment of the Pinners Point Interchange Project, and it adds 1.5 miles to VA-164. The prime contractor, Tidewater Skanska, Inc., plans to have the whole project completed by June 1, 2005.

"New Pinners Point Segment Opens to Traffic This Friday",  VDOT news release, November 17, 2004, (excerpts in blue text):
One step closer to completing the Pinners Point project, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will open a new bridge connecting the Midtown Tunnel to the Western Freeway after rush hour this Friday between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. The new bridge is part of the permanent traffic pattern for motorists exiting the Midtown Tunnel for the Western Freeway (Route 164). Signage on Friday will direct motorists exiting the Midtown Tunnel to stay to the right for Route 164 west. The new traffic pattern will then route motorists onto the new bridge where they will eventually merge with Route 164 westbound traffic at the existing West Norfolk Bridge. Motorists traveling to the London Boulevard/ High Street area should continue to remain to the left as they exit the tunnel. “As part of the permanent traffic pattern for the new Pinners Point interchange, this switch will streamline access to the Western Freeway and help to eliminate some of the confusion and congestion in the area,” said VDOT Project Manager Mike Johnson.

The initial opening on this project on September 18, 2004 provided a direct connection between the VA-164 Western Freeway and the Midtown Tunnel. It utilized temporary 2-lane 2-way traffic on what will be the permanent 2-lane directional ramp from the Western Freeway to the Midtown Tunnel approach highway. The above November 17, 2004 opening involved opening one lane on the permanent 2-lane directional ramp from the Midtown Tunnel approach highway, to the Western Freeway, and opening one lane on the westbound new Port Norfolk Connector bridge to carry this one lane ramp movement to the westbound VA-164 Western Freeway. The permanent 2-lane directional ramp from the Western Freeway to the Midtown Tunnel approach highway, now carries one lane of traffic to the Midtown Tunnel, with the new movement above having eliminated the temporary opposite direction one lane of traffic.

Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector) Fully Open

On a September 10, 2005 trip to Portsmouth, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the entire Pinners Point Interchange, MLK Freeway, West Norfolk bridge extension, and all ramps, are open to traffic, except for two places where 3-lane roadways have 2 lanes open and one lane closed by barrels.

The eastern 1,200 feet of the 3,630-foot-long West Norfolk Bridge has been reconstructed and realigned slightly northward so that it makes a seamless freeway connection with the new 3,500-foot-long Port Norfolk Connector bridge, so the extended West Norfolk Bridge is now 5,930 feet long. Effectively the whole project is open to traffic, although about 5 overhead sign structures still need to be constructed, so there are barrels and construction activities still on the project. Those sign structures are massive, so it may take another month to construct them. There are three overhead sign structures that have been erected. Both sides of the West Norfolk Bridge and its extension (the Port Norfolk Connector) are open to 2 lanes each way. The two Pinners Point Interchange directional ramps to the Midtown Tunnel approach highway, are each two lanes wide but have permanent line painting for one lane, since all that merges into one northbound lane through the tunnel; and those second lanes on those ramps will remain closed until the parallel Midtown Tunnel is built in the future. The four other Pinners Point Interchange directional ramps are opened to their 2-lane configuration. All 6 of the local ramps are open to traffic, 2 for each of the 3 legs of the freeway complex connected by the Pinners Point Interchange.

It was enjoyable to drive through, and I took 60 digital photos which are posted on my September 2005 photo article.

The July 27, 2005 Virginian-Pilot article below, seems to indicate that these openings took place between July 29 and August 6.

Work on Bayview Boulevard, formerly the arterial connector to the former east end of the West Norfolk Bridge, has been completed. This waterfront road was reduced from 4 lanes to 2 lanes, repaved, and the roadsides nicely landscaped and a pedestrian/bicycle trail built alongside the road, and the pedestrian/bicycle trail has a bridge to the West Norfolk Bridge so that pedestrians and bicyclists can utilize the north shoulder of the bridge to cross the river. Bayview Boulevard is now a quiet residential street with neighborhood traffic only.

Now we have a completed freeway (VA-164 and US-58) between Churchland and downtown Norfolk, with the only less-than-4-lane section being the Midtown Tunnel; and a completed freeway (I-664, VA-164 and US-58) between Newport News and downtown Norfolk. The MLK Freeway comes within a mile of downtown Portsmouth, and the VA-141 London Boulevard 4-lane arterial connects the MLK Freeway to downtown Portsmouth, so effectively downtown Portsmouth is also connected to the VA-164 Western Freeway and to Newport News and the Peninsula.

"More changes are coming at Pinners Point interchange", Virginian-Pilot,  July 27, 2005. Excerpts (in blue text):
Commuters traveling through the Pinners Point interchange will encounter significant changes in traffic patterns on the West Norfolk Bridge starting Friday. The switch will precede a larger change scheduled for Aug. 6, when new ramps are to be opened to ease traffic around the Portsmouth Marine Terminal. The changes are some of the finishing touches in the project as it moves toward a fall completion.

Currently, all traffic on the bridge – one eastbound lane, one westbound lane – moves across one side of the span. On Friday, however, the eastbound lane will be transferred to the bridge’s newly constructed other side. By fall, a second lane will be opened in each direction. But first, workers need to install overhead signs and apply permanent lane markings.

The changes in early August are more complicated but promise to help motorists realize the full scope of Pinners Point, a collection of bridges and ramps intended to ease port-bound truck traffic around local neighborhoods and provide simpler access to the Western Freeway. Weather permitting, engineers from the Virginia Department of Transportation will open a more direct link to the Western Freeway for motorists on U.S. 58. At the same time, they plan to open a new ramp at Cleveland Street for motorists heading from Port Norfolk to the freeway. Those drivers will now pass under a railroad overpass on their way to the ramp. With the latter change, workers will remove the temporary traffic signals that are now in place at the top of the exit to Cleveland Street, said K.W. Rawls, senior construction inspector for VDOT.

Photo Articles of the Pinners Point Interchange Project

These articles are by Roads to the Future

Pinners Point Interchange Construction Photos - February 2004 - 32 aerial photos
Pinners Point Interchange Construction Photos - March & May 2004 - 5 photos
Pinners Point Interchange Construction Photos - September 2004 - 8 photos
Pinners Point Interchange Construction Photos - October 2004 - 22 photos
Pinners Point Interchange Construction Photos - December 2004 - 57 aerial photos
Pinners Point Interchange Construction Photos - April 2005 - 13 photos
Pinners Point Interchange Construction Photos - September 2005 - 60 photos

Completed Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector), looking northwest across the Port Norfolk section of the City of Portsmouth, across the Elizabeth River Western Branch, toward the West Norfolk section of the City of Portsmouth. The James River is in the upper part of the photo. The US-58 Martin Luther Freeway is to the lower left, the US-58 Midtown Tunnel approach highway is to the lower right, and the Portsmouth Marine Terminal is to the lower right. The VA-164 Western Freeway crosses the river and heads west to Churchland.  The Pinners Point Interchange is in the lower right, and it connects US-58 to VA-164. Photo by VDOT, November 2005. Click image for large image (size 294 kilobytes).
Completed Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector), looking east across the West Norfolk section of the City of Portsmouth to the left, across the Elizabeth River Western Branch, toward the Port Norfolk section of the City of Portsmouth to the right. Downtown Norfolk is across the Elizabeth River in the upper part of the photo. The US-58 Martin Luther Freeway is to the upper right, the US-58 Midtown Tunnel approach highway is to the upper right, and the Portsmouth Marine Terminal is to the upper right. The VA-164 Western Freeway crosses the river.  The Pinners Point Interchange is in the upper right, and it connects US-58 to VA-164. Photo by VDOT, November 2005. Click image for large image (size 202 kilobytes).
Completed Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector), looking southeast across the West Norfolk section of the City of Portsmouth, across the Elizabeth River Western Branch, toward the Port Norfolk section of the City of Portsmouth. The US-58 Martin Luther Freeway is to the upper right, the US-58 Midtown Tunnel approach highway is to the upper left, and the Portsmouth Marine Terminal is to the upper left. The VA-164 Western Freeway crosses the river. The Pinners Point Interchange is in the upper center, and it connects US-58 to VA-164. Photo by VDOT, November 2005. Click image for large image (size 258 kilobytes).

Parallel Midtown Tunnel and Martin Luther King Freeway Extension

The remainder of the projects are currently not certain as to what funding mechanisms will be used, and what construction schedule will materialize.

There were transportation tax referendums in Virginia in November 2002; there was a referendum in Northern Virginia and a referendum in the Norfolk/Hampton Roads area. Both referenda were voted down at the polls. The referendum in the Norfolk/Hampton Roads area would have authorized a 1 cent increase in the region's sales tax, and would have authorized $7 billion in new transportation funding over a 20-year period, including paying for the entire cost of the Parallel Midtown Tunnel and Martin Luther King Freeway Extension.

Neither of these projects are programmed in the VDOT Six Year Program for Fiscal Year 2005-2010, which is the current Six Year Program as of this writing in June 2004.

On November 1, 2004, VDOT advertised a Request for Information (RFI) for the Midtown Tunnel Corridor Project (MTCP). This would include the Parallel Midtown Tunnel and its approaches to provide an upgraded 4-lane tunnel complex connecting the new Pinners Point Interchange in Portsmouth to Brambleton Avenue and Hampton Boulevard in downtown Norfolk. Three RFIs were received by VDOT by the deadline of January 18, 2005.

The Midtown Tunnel Corridor Project (MTCP) is on the VDOT Request for Information (RFI) webpage on VDOT's website. Excerpt (in blue text):
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is seeking Statements of Interest (SOI) from private entities (respondents) that are qualified and experienced with design, construction, improvement, maintenance, and/or operation of limited-access highway facilities and tunnels. VDOT will consider responses to this Request for Information (RFI), and determine whether to solicit conceptual proposals under the Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995, as amended (the PPTA), for constructing all or part(s) of expansion of the Midtown Tunnel Corridor (Route 58 under the Elizabeth River and approach roadways) in the Cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth in Virginia. VDOT is considering future procurement with competitive negotiation procedures under the PPTA because of the potential for risk sharing, non-public funding, and other economic benefits which would not otherwise be available through a competitive bidding process.

Like the quote says, VDOT wanted to gauge what interest may exist in the private sector to form a public-private partnership with VDOT to fund and build this project, along with an outline of what the private entity would propose, so that if enough interest was shown as a result of this RFI, VDOT may decide to solicit conceptual proposals under the provisions of Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA), to build this project. VDOT received three Statements of Interest (SOI) for the MTCP, from Tidewater Skanska, Inc., from Jacobs Civil, Inc., and from the Parsons Transportation Group. The links to each SOI are on the VDOT RFI webpage linked above. The SOI submitted by Tidewater Skanska, Inc. emphasized the importance of including the MLK Freeway Extension in this project, as it was not in the RFI for the MTCP; and this proposer also emphasized the need to get FHWA final approval for the re-tolling of the Downtown Tunnel, so that the tolls on both tunnels could support the bond financing of the MTCP project. The next step for this project, would be for VDOT to solicit conceptual proposals under the PPTA.

Martin Luther King Freeway Extension

In 1989, VDOT engineering studies identified 5 build alternates for the Martin Luther King Freeway Extension, and completed a Final Environmental Assessment in May 1990, which detailed the alternatives. This document did not receive final FHWA approval, because of later modifications to the project, and VDOT prepared a new Final Environmental Assessment, which was completed by VDOT in March 1999. Since the project did not have a funding source for construction, FHWA did not issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the Environmental Assessment, nor did FHWA request a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. VDOT's studies did determine a preferred alternative for this project, and this preferred alternative was selected by the City of Portsmouth, and approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, in 1990.

Final Environmental Assessment
Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway Extension Study
City of Portsmouth
State Project: 0058-124-F04,PE101,RW201,C501
Federal Project: M-5403( )
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration
Prepared by Virginia Department of Transportation
Submitted Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 4332, March 1999

The cost estimates for this project are about $100 million for design, right-of-way and construction. This Final Environmental Assessment shows the most recent detailed plan for the project, so I use it as a prime source in this article, with quotes below.

Quotes from Final Environmental Assessment of March 1999 ---

1.1 PROJECT DESCRIPTION (Quote in blue text):
VDOT and FHWA propose to extend the MLK Freeway from Interstate 264 (I-264) to London Boulevard in the City of Portsmouth, Virginia. Designated as US Route 58 and Virginia Alternate 337, the freeway is a north-south, four-lane facility that provides access to the City of Norfolk via the Midtown Tunnel. I-264, via the Downtown Tunnel, is the only other direct highway link between Portsmouth and Norfolk. Both of the tunnels are important parts of the regional highway network, as congestion levels indicate.

The project would involve highway construction on new location for approximately 1.13 kilometers (0.70 miles) and improvements to I-264 for a distance of 1.52 kilometers (0.95 miles). An elevated, limited access facility has been selected as the preferred alternative for the project.

The project area is located in southeastern Virginia, in a very urbanized area within the City of Portsmouth, approximately 3.05 kilometers (1.89 miles) south of the confluence of the Western and Southern Branches of the Elizabeth River. The project area consists of varied land uses, including heavy and light industrial, urban low and medium density residential, public/institutional facilities, and commercial.

1.2 PROJECT STATUS (Quote in blue text):
In 1989, engineering studies identified five build alternatives for the project: Alternatives A-E. Based on these studies, VDOT (with FHWA concurrence) eliminated Alternatives C and D from further consideration. The following year, VDOT prepared and submitted a preliminary Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) to FHWA that identified Alternative E as the preferred alternative. On September 10, 1990, the Portsmouth City Council approved a resolution citing Alternative E as its preferred alternative. On October 24, 1990, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved the location of Alternative E. For these reasons, this document does not present detailed information on alternatives other than this selected alternative.

In 1992, VDOT completed and submitted a preliminary Final EA and a Final EA. However, FHWA did not prepare a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Since then, the project design has changed to include features such as a collector-distributor road on eastbound I-264 and a new alignment for Columbus Street. Local and regional planning documents reference and support the project. For example, the General Land Use map contained in the City of Portsmouth's comprehensive plan shows MLK Freeway extended to I-264. The project is also a component of the Southeastern Virginia Regional Concept plan. Both the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce support the MLK Freeway Extension.

1.3.1 System Linkage (Quote in blue text):
In the Tidewater area, I-264 and Route 58 link the area's ports and other facilities to outside markets. These highways serve as part of the regional highway network and, as such, are important commercial and commuter routes. I-264 extends west to the convergence of I-664 and I-64 in the City of Chesapeake. Further to the east, it crosses the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River before connecting with I-464. It then extends through the City of Norfolk before its terminus at the I-64 interchange.

The MLK Freeway becomes Hampton Boulevard (Route 337) and Brambleton Avenue (Route 58) upon entering the City of Norfolk. Hampton Boulevard extends north to the Norfolk Naval Air Station, the Norfolk International Terminals, and the Sewells Point Terminals. These facilities serve as major employment and shipping centers and, therefore, generate considerable traffic.

In the City of Portsmouth, a direct, limited access connection does not currently exist between the MLK Freeway and I-264, forcing drivers to use circuitous routes via local city streets. The proposed project would address this problem by providing a limited-access facility for through traffic, thereby reducing congestion on local streets. It would also supplement the Pinners Point Interchange project, located immediately to the north. Moreover, the project would relieve some of the traffic impacts to the Port Norfolk Historic District, located west of the MLK Freeway.

The MLK Freeway Extension would also provide for other key movements in the area. For example, it would serve as an alternative to the Downtown Tunnel for traffic to Norfolk from points to the west and south. It would also provide an alternative route for I-264 traffic when the Downtown Tunnel is congested or closed.

The MLK Freeway Extension would complement other nearby highway projects. The Pinners Point Interchange Project is a project that involves highway construction and improvements directly to the north of the MLK project. The Pinners Point project would provide an east-west link between the Western Freeway and Route 58. The project consists of construction of the Pinners Point Interchange and a limited-access highway connector to the Western Freeway in Portsmouth. Advertisement of the Pinners Point Interchange and Connector will likely begin in 2000.

3. IMPACTS (Quote in blue text):
This section addresses social, economic, and environmental impacts of the preferred Alternative E. In 1990, VDOT prepared and submitted a preliminary Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) to FHWA that identified Alternative E as the preferred alternative. On September 10, 1990, the Portsmouth City Council approved a resolution citing Alternative E as its preferred alternative. On October 24, 1990, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved the location of Alternative E. Since it has been established as the preferred alternative, this chapter only discusses impacts associated with Alternative E.

This exhibit is from the Final Environmental Assessment, Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway Extension Study, City of Portsmouth, prepared by Virginia Department of Transportation, March 1999.

On the page, the existing interchange between the MLK Freeway and London Boulevard is at the top of the page, I-264 runs left-right across the lower part of the page, and the MLK Freeway Extension and interchange with I-264 is in the middle of the page.

Click for larger images: Medium (160 kilobytes), Large (497 kilobytes), Extra Large (1,358 kilobytes).

 

Opinion on Funding of Parallel Midtown Tunnel and MLK Freeway Extension

Roads to the Future opines:

The need has existed for a long time, to build the projects for the Parallel Midtown Tunnel and the Martin Luther King Freeway Extension, and most officials and businesspersons in the Hampton Roads area believe the same. After the expansion projects on I-264 between downtown Portsmouth and downtown Norfolk were completed in 1991, which included the parallel Downtown Tunnel and the parallel Berkley Bridge, the next logical project in the next 5-10 years, to increase highway capacity across the Elizabeth River between Norfolk and Portsmouth, was the construction of the three projects that are in the title of this article, the VA-164/MLK/Midtown Tunnel extension/expansion.

There have been two main eras of construction of bridges and tunnels across the Elizabeth River and across the Hampton Roads estuary, the “toll financing era” of 1950-1962 where these major highway facilities were financed with toll revenue bond financing: first 2-lane Downtown Tunnel and first 4-lane Berkley Bridge (opened 1952), first 2-lane Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (opened 1957), 2-lane Midtown Tunnel (opened 1962); and the “Interstate highway funding era” of 1972-1992 where these major highway facilities were financed with 90% federal Interstate highway funding and 10% state funding: second 2-lane Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (I-64, opened 1976), second 2-lane Downtown Tunnel (I-264, opened 1987) and second 4-lane Berkley Bridge and upgraded approaches and interchanges (I-264, completed 1991), and the 4-lane I-664 Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel (opened 1992).

The “toll financing era” provided needed highway facilities before there was the large funding mechanism of the road-user-tax-stocked U.S. Highway Trust Fund (HTF), and the HTF provided the “Interstate highway funding era" whereby Interstate highways were built without tolls. The Interstate highway system beginning in 1956 provided many expensive highways throughout the U.S., and without tolls. The original Interstate highway system mileage (42,500 miles) was completed nationwide in 1996, and the U.S. Highway Trust Fund still is in use, but its funding today is spread over many different types of highway projects and systems, and a considerable portion of the HTF is still dedicated to the original Interstate highway system, parts of which were built 35 to 40 years or more ago, for the funding of expensive widening and rehabilitation projects, a funding need which is not lessening. The upshot of this is that from about 1990 onward, there has again been an upsurge in toll revenue bond financing in the nation, since highway construction needs in many places exceed the available state and federal highway tax funding mechanisms, also since some highway projects are extremely expensive to build.

As written earlier in this article, the Norfolk/Hampton Roads region progressively eliminated highway tolls because many local citizens and elected officials believed that tolls were hindering commerce and placing an unfair burden on the users of those facilities, and a couple economic studies were performed by the local metropolitan planning organization in the 1970s, that demonstrated the significant economic benefits that would accrue to the public by eliminating the tolls on the crossings of the Elizabeth River and the Hampton Roads estuary. When the Interstate-funded second 2-lane Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel opened in 1976, the whole facility became the toll-free 4-lane I-64 with one 2-lane facility each way, and the US-17 James River Bridge became toll-free at the same time. The bonds were paid off on the Downtown Tunnel and Midtown Tunnel in 1986, and both facilities became toll-free that year. As was said, the expansion of the Downtown Tunnel (to 4 lanes, with two 2-lane tubes) and the Berkley Bridge (to 8 lanes, with two 4-lane bridges) was funded as a toll-free Interstate highway project, and the I-664 bridge-tunnel crossing of Hampton Roads was a toll-free Interstate highway project from its inception.

The $180 million Pinners Point Interchange project is complete, and it provides an important segment of the VA-164/MLK/Midtown Tunnel extension/expansion project. These highways were never added to the Interstate highway system, so while they qualify for major amounts of federal funding, the funding ratio is much lower than the 90% federal funding that was used to build the Interstate highway system; so that makes it considerably more difficult for the state to fund these projects, because of the much higher shares of state matching funds needed. The cost estimates for the other projects, in 2004 dollars, are about $350 million for the Parallel Midtown Tunnel and approaches, and about $100 million for the MLK Freeway Extension. Either project alone would feasibly connect with the Pinners Point Interchange project, and provide major benefits, and of course the best option would be to build both.

The competed Pinners Point Interchange project should “stimulate peoples’ appetites” as to the benefits of the expansion of this highway complex, and it will be seen as a huge improvement by itself, as people experience its benefits. Hopefully it will “increase peoples’ appetites” as to the need to fund and build the rest of the complex. In any event, a huge portion of the complex will be complete.

It would be nice to see the Parallel Midtown Tunnel and MLK Freeway Extension projects funded without tolls via state and federal highway funds, but the current revenue streams don’t allow either project to be funded in the current VDOT Six Year Program. Perhaps there will be increases in the state and/or federal fuel taxes in the next year or two, allowing the projects to be funded, but these are very expensive projects, and there are plenty of needed road construction projects on other Hampton Roads regional highways and roads.

With traffic volumes of over 46,000 vehicles per day on the 2-lane Midtown Tunnel and over 95,000 vehicles per day on the 4-lane Downtown Tunnel, and increased traffic projected in the future, these tunnels are very overloaded with traffic, with high congestion during peak hours. It won’t “solve” traffic congestion to build the Parallel Midtown Tunnel and the MLK Freeway Extension, but it will certainly help greatly in providing more capacity, plus the elimination of 2-lane 2-way traffic in the confined space of the tunnel, via provision of a separate 2-lane roadway tube for each direction of Midtown Tunnel traffic; there will be a more balanced traffic load between the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, and if there is a traffic incident that clogs the Downtown Tunnel, the 4-lane alternate MLK Freeway route between I-264 in Portsmouth and downtown Norfolk will help things a lot while the traffic incident exists. Better peak period traffic conditions in the two tunnel complexes will also facilitate their use for effective public transit via buses.

It would be nice to see the Midtown Tunnel and Downtown Tunnel remain toll-free, as it is a real achievement to have toll-free underwater major highway tunnels. After thought about this for several years, Roads to the Future has decided as of the June 2004 writing of “Opinion on Funding of Parallel Midtown Tunnel and MLK Freeway Extension” in this article, to come out in support of the re-tolling of the two tunnels so that the funding can be secured to build the Parallel Midtown Tunnel and MLK Freeway Extension. Modern toll plaza collection can include “open lane tolling” so that electronic toll collection (ETC) customers (Smart Tag and E-ZPass) can pass through the toll plaza at full highway speed, and manual lanes can be included for people who want to pay cash, and such a toll plaza can be made smaller than toll plazas of the past. The Pinners Point Interchange project includes reconstruction of the tunnel approach highway up to the south portal of the Midtown Tunnel, with space for the future parallel tunnel as well as a future toll plaza. It would take some highway reconstruction, but a toll plaza could be built on I-264 immediately west of the Downtown Tunnel.

As detailed earlier in this article, in 1999, private investors offered to fund the entire VA-164/MLK/Midtown Tunnel extension/expansion project under the provisions of PPTA, with tolls on the Midtown and Downtown tunnels to recoup their investment. The City of Portsmouth’s opposition to the tolls was the thing that blocked the project, and now 7 years has passed with no tax funding mechanism in sight for the MLK and tunnel projects, so the city needs to drop that opposition and to come out in support of a tolled PPTA project to fund these projects, and if VDOT will put out a solicitation for such a PPTA project proposal, there will be a high likelihood of attracting the same consortium or a similar one.

These projects need to be built soon – let’s get them built!

Sources

1) Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) historical information.
2) Western Freeway Extension, City of Portsmouth, Location Public Hearing brochure from the Location Public Hearing on September 26, 1979, by VDOT.
3) Route 164 Western Freeway, City of Portsmouth, Location and Design Public Hearing brochure, July 1984, by VDOT.
4) Route 58, Midtown Tunnel and Interchanges, Location Public Hearing brochure, February 27 & 28, 1990, by VDOT. This includes the parallel Midtown Tunnel, the Pinners Point Interchange, and the Western Freeway Extension (Port Norfolk Connector).
5) Environmental Assessment, Route 58 - Martin Luther King Freeway Extension, by Virginia Department of Transportation for FHWA, completed by VDOT in May 1990.
6) Opening dates from Interstate System Opened to Traffic as of July 1, 1992, by Virginia Department of Transportation.
7) Final Environmental Impact Statement with Section 4(f) Analysis (EIS Number FHWA-VA-EIS-89-03-F), Route 58 / Midtown Tunnel (Including Pinners Point Interchange), approved by FHWA in November 1996. This includes the parallel Midtown Tunnel, the Pinners Point Interchange, and the Western Freeway Extension (Port Norfolk Connector).
8) Revised 1998-99 VDOT/CTB Six-Year Improvement Program, by VDOT and Commonwealth Transportation Board.
9) "Portsmouth's Toll Stance Causes Alarm In Norfolk", Virginian-Pilot newspaper article, published March 25, 1999.
10) Final Environmental Assessment, Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway Extension Study, City of Portsmouth, prepared by Virginia Department of Transportation for Federal Highway Administration, completed by VDOT in March 1999.
11) "Split Council In Norfolk Approaches Toll Vote", Virginian-Pilot newspaper article, published April 7, 1999.
12) Traffic volumes from Average Daily Traffic Volumes with Vehicle Classification Data on Interstate, Arterial and Primary Routes, by Virginia Department of Transportation, 1997 and 2001.
13) "Construction Will Begin on Long-Awaited Pinners Point Interchange", VDOT news release, November 15, 2001.
14) "Pinners Point Interchange a go at Midtown Tunnel", Virginian-Pilot newspaper article, November 16, 2001.
15) "Contract is Signed On Pinner's Point Interchange in Portsmouth", VDOT news release, March 7, 2002.
16) "Pinners Point Road Project Offers Big Payoffs for Many", by The Virginian-Pilot, January 30, 2004.
17) FY2004-2005 VDOT/CTB Six-Year Improvement Program, by VDOT and Commonwealth Transportation Board.
18) "VDOT Opens Much-Anticipated New Portion Of Western Freeway At Pinners Point", VDOT news release, April 27, 2004.
19) "VDOT Continues Addressing Traffic Concerns Near Pinners Point -
Traffic to Return to Old Portion of West Norfolk Bridge
", VDOT news release, May 5, 2004.
20) "VDOT To Open Much Anticipated Portion of Western Freeway at Pinners Point this Weekend", VDOT news release, September 17, 2004.
21) "
New Pinners Point Segment Opens to Traffic This Friday",  VDOT news release, November 17, 2004.
22
) The VDOT website has this website link about the project:
Pinners Point Interchange

23) VDOT Dashboard entry for project:
Rte 164 Pinners Point Interchange (Port Norfolk Connector)

24) Limits and areas served from any good map of the state.

Copyright © 1999-2007 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 7-1999, updated 2-17-2007)