Bowers Hill interchange gets unraveled

Published 10:55 pm Friday, May 10, 2019

While the Virginia Department of Transportation has its preferred alternative for work to be done in the web of highways that make up the Bowers Hill interchange, the city of Suffolk does not.

VDOT displayed its choice to the public during a meeting Thursday at Jolliff Middle School in Chesapeake, along with two others for consideration.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board will ultimately have the final say on the improvements for Interstates 64, 264 and 664, as well as U.S. Routes 460, 58 and 13 and Jolliff Road – VA Route 191. That decision is expected sometime this summer.

VDOT’s preference is to separate traffic with barrier-separated lanes and braided ramps, or flyovers, with a cost of about $450 million. That cost includes preliminary engineering, right-of-way and utilities and construction.

“The braided ramp option, we can call it a flyover,” said Jennifer Salyers, location studies project manager for VDOT. “We have flyovers all over the region. That’s basically what it is. It’s just one ramp that flies over the other, and they call it braided because it looks like a braid.”

As part of VDOT’s preferred option, a third lane would be added to I-664 north from the Route 58 west exit ramps north to the proposed improvements at the Route 58 eastbound entrance loop ramp. An auxiliary lane would also be added from the Dock Landing Road entrance ramp on southbound I-664 to the westbound Route 58 exit ramp.

The other choices for the project are to either do nothing or to fully reconstruct the interchange, which would separate main lane traffic between Route 58/I-264 and I-664/I-64 through Bowers Hill to eliminate weaving movements and improve the ramps, according to VDOT. A barrier would separate traffic so that traffic would flow through the new braided and direct connector ramps. VDOT estimates the total cost of a rebuild at $633.1 million.

Salyers said VDOT’s preference would make the interchange safer, and it would cost less than a total rebuild.

“The thing about what these flyovers do is separate the movements, the weaving action that’s happening at the interchange that’s causing the majority of these accidents,” Salyers said. “The safety factor and the improvements that’s going to be made is going to be significant with separating the movements, and the combination of the barrier separation too.”

Acting Director of Public Works L.J. Hansen said the cities of Suffolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake – the cities affected by the project – would like to have more input into the project.

“We’re looking at it from the city of Suffolk standpoint and what our viewpoint is, and we’re still waiting to see what the final environmental analysis shows,” Hansen said. “The environmental analysis is not done yet. VDOT’s recommendation is the recommendation, but they’re a little bit ahead of the environmental assessment.”

Salyers said the environmental assessment, which the Federal Highway Administration signed and approved for public availability, can be revised after the public comment period, which closes May 19. Those public comments are required, she said, to be part of the record and part of the assessment.

Hansen said officials from Suffolk and the other localities still have questions about the project they would like to be answered, and the city is not ready to endorse any option for the Bowers Hill interchange.

“We’d like to have a little bit more input, and how VDOT came to (its) conclusion without having everything analyzed,” Hansen said. “And then there’s some issues with the model we’re not quite sure of. We’re not opposed to option one, we’re not opposed to option two. We’re just not sure that we have a complete picture yet.”

Salyers said VDOT has held monthly meetings with stakeholders – the localities along with officials from the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization and the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission.
“We will meet with them again to answer any questions they have about how we arrived at the study, the traffic data or any other questions they may have,” Salyers said.

Brandon McAdams, who drives through Bowers Hill twice a day on his commute from Suffolk to Virginia Beach and back, said his preference is for the braided approach, which he says would save money while making much-needed improvements. He said that one of his primary concerns about going through the interchange is traffic weaving through lanes and causing congestion.

“It does a good job solving the issues, and it’s … cheaper,” McAdams said of VDOT’s preferred choice.  He said the total rebuild proposal would do a better job of fixing the issues in the interchange, but he was also unsure if the improvements would justify the increased cost.

He was also concerned about I-664 northbound and the potential for more traffic, depending on the timing of the respective projects.

Salyers said the Bowers Hill interchange project took in to account other projects in the works that could impact Bowers Hill. Those include the High Rise Bridge expansion – the first phase of which is expected to be complete by July 2021 – adding lanes to I-664 and improvements along Route 58.

Along Route 58, VDOT is looking at reconfiguring the highway’s crossover at the eastbound on-ramp in Suffolk to a restricted crossing U-turn, and reconfiguring the existing crossover area and the on-ramp to a U-turn west of the intersection. The agency also wants to reconfigure the alignment along Holland Road and the intersection of the highway with Longstreet Lane. VDOT estimated that the costs of the Suffolk-area work on Route 58 would be from $4.7 to $6.5 million.

Hansen said Route 58 is a key truck corridor, and the Bowers Hill interchange is a key intersection for those coming from eastern points who may be evacuating for a hurricane.

“Anybody that’s on Route 58 in the city of Suffolk knows that there’s a lot of trucks, and this is an important avenue for the trucks leaving the port, and trying to get to Emporia going south. This intersection is key to that. … This is an important project, and it’s one we want to make sure we get right,” he said.