Highway woes to be fixed

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 25, 2003

HAMPTON (AP) – The newly paved 2.5-mile section of I-64 in Hampton will open to traffic in 15 weeks after $2.7 million worth of additional drainage work is completed.

Removal of the new pavement will not be necessary.

The new lanes were built as part of the Coliseum Central Highway Improvement Project on I-64 between I-664 and the Hampton Roads Center Parkway. They could not be used because water did not drain properly from certain areas after heavy rains.

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Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet assembled a team last month from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Federal Highway Administration and the contractor’s parent company, the Branch Group, and directed them to develop a solution to the drainage problem.

The team conducted an extensive survey of the pavement and determined the exact extent of the primary problem, which is drainage along the shoulder. Water collects along the shoulder near the median barrier after heavy rainfalls and does not drain properly in certain areas because the shoulder grade is flat. Under strong storm conditions, this water could spread into the nearby travel lane.

The solution is improving the drainage system. This involves milling sections of the shoulder and installing additional drainage openings, including trench drains. With the drainage improvement, water will drain from the roadway.

&uot;The team has delivered the solution as promised, one that is safe, reasonable and cost efficient,&uot; said Shucet. &uot;The solution meets VDOT’s immediate goal to open this newly paved section of I-64 to traffic as soon as possible.&uot;

When the drainage improvements are completed, VDOT will move traffic from the old eastbound lanes to the new ones. Construction will then begin to improve the old eastbound lanes. After the eastbound work is done, then VDOT will complete work on the westbound side. The project also involves interchange improvements at Mercury Blvd. and adding continuous merge lanes.

&uot;Today’s solution is just the beginning for improving the construction process of the I-64 widening,&uot; said Shucet. &uot;Governor Mark Warner has directed me to come up with the best method possible to get VDOT entirely out of the mainline of I-64 in a much quicker time-frame. The motorists need a break from construction, and I will do everything in my power to provide them with relief sooner rather than later.&uot;

Shucet said that accountability is being dealt with very seriously as a result of the I-64 pavement issue. He requested and received the resignation of Frank Gee, VDOT’s chief engineer of operations.

&uot;Gee’s responsibility was to make sure problems like the I-64 pavement issue did not happen – and if they did occur – to take immediate action to resolve them,&uot; explained Shucet. &uot;He did not meet that responsibility.&uot;

Shucet is also making further organizational changes to draw strict lines of accountability.

&uot;Unpleasant as it is, the I-64 debacle will serve as perhaps the greatest lesson that VDOT, the localities and the industry have learned in decades. VDOT will be a better agency for it in the long run,&uot; said Shucet. &uot;The price has been painful, but necessary.&uot;