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Thursday, December 11, 2008

HRBT Public Meeting: A Review

I attended the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel Meeting on Wednesday. The meeting started with introductions from Dennis W. Heuer (VDOT Hampton Roads District Administrator), Pierce R. Homer (Virginia Secretary of Transportation), and Randy Boice (Project Manager). Mr. Boice gave very detailed, informative explanations of each alternative including the strengths and weaknesses of each. Alternative One, at $2.2 Billion was the least costly of the alternatives, however it had its fatal flaw. It would not meet Federal Highway requirements, which prohibit two-way traffic within the same undivided tunnel. Alternative Two would get around that at minimal extra cost by making the middle tube reversible during rush hour, while adding $100 Million. The downfall to this plan, as was stated by Mr. Boice, was that the traffic pattern on I-64 does not allow for reversible lanes. In order to be feasible, the majority of traffic would have to flow in one direction and then reverse for the afternoon rush hour. On I-64, however, there is equal traffic in each direction, making it difficult to reverse the lanes. Moving on to Alternative Three, Mr. Boice said that this one, along with the next one, are the two most practical. Alternative Three would construct a four-lane tunnel to accommodate all east-bound traffic and convert both existing tubes to carry only west-bound traffic. Similarly, Alternative Four, would construct the four-lane tunnel. It would, however, reserve a lane in each direction to be used for a dedicated right-of-way transit service, either a bus way or, more preferably (in the Virginia Secretary of Transportation’s opinion), an extension for the Light rail line. At $3.3 Billion each, these two alternatives are the most costly. Alternative Five is the first of two bridge-based alternatives. Number Five would construct a suspension bridge with a suspended span a mile in length and high enough for cargo ships and aircraft carriers to pass under. Unfortunately, Alternative Five’s bridge would only carry two lanes. This causes it to have not one but two fatal flaws. Like the first alternative, it would require reversible lanes, which not only fail the Federal Highway regulations but, due to the lower speed needed for the two-lane tube, the time benefit would not be worth the money spent. The second fatal flaw is the best, though. Due to its having only two lanes over such a large span, it would be subject to “adverse … aerodynamics,” similar to the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which collapsed in Washington State four months after it opened in 1940. In order to remedy this, the bridge would have to be reinforced to the point that it would cost as much as a four-lane bridge, which happens to be Alternative Six. This four-lane bridge, which would only save $100 million over the four-lane tunnel option, also has its fatal flaw. The Navy would never approve it. Constructing a bridge over the only exit for the majority of the Atlantic Fleet would be a terrorist attack waiting to happen. Also, this fact would add fuel to Florida’s case to move aircraft carriers away.
After the presentation, there were numerous comments from a variety of sources. The most notable was Mayor Paul Fraim, who spoke in definite object to any and all plans to widen the HRBT. His main reason was that the region has already determined that the Third Crossing was the best option. It would be better during an evacuation, a plus for military mobility, and it would draw traffic away from the HRBT, lessening the traffic jams. He also complained that any HRBT widening project would disrupt the Willoughby area too much. Senator John Miller and Delegate Paula Miller were present to support the project, arguing that we need to plan for the future and not just for alleviating current problems. Delegate Miller also inquired as to whether or not either the HRBT project or the Third Crossing would be eligible to receive funding under the proposed stimulus programs from President-elect Barack Obama. Mr. Homer, the VA Secretary of transportation replied that no, neither project would be eligible due to a requirement that the project be ready for immediate construction. Bobby Mathieson of Virginia Beach said that the Beach has made no formal decision but instead stressed that the community needs to continue to talk about solutions. Virginia Beach’s Vice Mayor Louis Jones stated that he did not support any project that was not previously supported by the MPO. Norfolk councilman Randy Wright took a minute to publicly thank Mr. Homer for supporting the Norfolk Light Rail project. Hampton councilwoman Angela Leary stressed to Norfolk residents that she is a big supporter of personal property rights and that she agrees with the concerns of the city and would like to discuss further alternatives with Norfolk and the Peninsula alike. In response to a question posed by a man by the name of Steve Dexter, Mr. Homer wanted to make it clear that he strongly supported a multi-modal tube in any expansion to make it more attractive to Norfolk and the Region at large. Also interesting to note, Chesapeake’s Mayor Krasnoff and councilman Richard West were present, although they declined to speak on the subject.
Overall, the meeting was very informative but very little true progress was made, although I think that it was very important to have, because it brought all sides out into the open for healthy dialogue.

2 comments:

Missy Blankenship said...

Russell-
Good review; almost felt like I was there. I assume this is a new req'ment: "Federal Highway requirements, which prohibit two-way traffic within the same undivided tunnel"? Don't we already have these in the Midtown Tunnel and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel?
MissySchmidt.com

Russell Manning said...

What it is are the highway requirements for an 'interstate.' The Midtown and the CBRT are not interstates.

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