Officials decide on road improvements

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, October 20, 2016

Widening the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel was among the transportation improvements approved Thursday by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization.

Improvements to the High Rise Bridge, the Bowers Hill interchange and a connector for Routes 460, 58 and 13 also are planned.

“It’s an exciting day,” Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson, who is chair of the HRTPO, said after the meeting. “It’s a great day for Hampton Roads.”

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The decision came after the board examined four main alternatives, along with many different variations.

“We’ve heard loud and clear improvements are needed to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel,” Robert Crum, executive director of HRTPO, said during Thursday morning’s meeting in Chesapeake. “We need to pick an alternative that can be built, and we also need to pick an alternative that can be permitted and funded.”

Two of the options were dismissed as too expensive and unlikely to receive the necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had expressed concern over their impact on aquatic resources.

One of them did nothing to improve Interstate 64, focusing instead on creating a connection between 564 and 664, as well as a connection between 164 and the new connector. It also included improvements to Interstate 664.

The other option included all of those projects plus the Interstate 64 improvements, but it was determined more study was needed for some of the projects.

The package of projects approved Thursday would cost about $4 billion.

The additional lanes approved on Interstate 64 — one lane in each direction — would likely be high-occupancy toll lanes, said Camelia Ravanbakht, deputy executive director of HRTPO. High-occupancy toll lanes would be available for use by people with three or more people in the car or by public transit. Other drivers could pay a toll for the convenience of using the lane.

Ravanbakht said Interstate 64 would be made six lanes all the way from the Hampton Coliseum to Norfolk’s Wards Corner.

Additional lanes also would be added on the High Rise Bridge, which carries Interstate 64 in Chesapeake.

Ravanbakht said improvements to Bowers Hill, as well as bringing the connections between routes 460, 58 and 13 up to interstate standards, also will be part of the project. Engineering studies on those two pieces are needed to determine exactly what improvements will take place.

The Fort Eustis interchange on the Peninsula also would be part of the project.

Most of the improvements are still years in the future. The widening of Interstate 64 would take place from 2018 to 2022, with others following behind. The Bowers Hill improvements likely would not take place until 2031, with the 460/58/13 connector in 2035.

“I may not see these projects in my lifetime,” Johnson said after Thursday’s meeting. “But it means a lot to the people that come behind us.”

The Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission also voted to fund a study for other long-range projects, including the so-called Patriots Crossing, which would connect interstates 564 and 664.

Johnson said the unanimous vote sends a positive message to state authorities.

“We’re able to do it, we can permit it, we can build it, and it does relieve traffic congestion,” she said.

Also at the meeting, it was announced the Commonwealth Transportation Board has decided to move the Route 460 project forward to be scored by the state’s new transportation prioritization method. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit earlier this month for the project, which would create a new, four-lane, divided highway between U.S. Route 58 in Suffolk to west of Windsor, including a bypass. From west of Windsor to one mile west of Zuni, the existing road would be reconstructed and upgraded to a four-lane divided highway, with a new bridge across the Blackwater River.