More than 120,000 drivers use the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels daily. In fact, the Midtown Tunnel is the most heavily traveled road east of the Mississippi. Since it opened, population has increased nearly 70% and tunnel usage by 600%.
Idling in congestion at the tunnels wastes more than 17 million gallons of fuel each year, and the time equates to three lost workdays per driver, per year. Congestion costs Hampton Roads a significant portion of its Gross Regional Product, with .8% lost annually. Benefits of the Project include:
- Tunnel Upgrades and Rehabilitation: Fire, life and safety improvements will be made to the existing Midtown and Downtown Tunnels.
- Efficient Access to Both Tunnels: Using the MLK Extension, drivers can easily choose between the Midtown or Downtown Tunnels—and they’ll be better informed of traffic conditions via changeable message signs coordinated through a central control room.
- Time Savings, Congestion Relief: The average round trip driver at the Midtown Tunnel will save about 30 minutes a day, saving fuel costs and reducing emissions.
In total, all aspects of the project include:
- A new two-lane tunnel under the Elizabeth River adjacent to the existing Midtown Tunnel.
- Significant rehabilitation, safety improvements and maintenance to the existing Midtown and Downtown Tunnels, which are 50-, 60- and 25-years-old.
- Interchange improvements at Brambleton Avenue/Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk to enhance traffic flow.
- Extending the MLK Freeway from London Boulevard to Interstate 264, with a partial interchange at High Street—providing more direct access between the tunnels and a shorter, direct route to the Downtown Tunnel, thus enhancing regional mobility and offering commuters choices to avoid congestion.
- Long-term, 24/7 maintenance, operations, management, snow removal and incident response in the Project area.
- An agreement with Hampton Roads Transit to increase bus and ferry services between Norfolk and Portsmouth to the highest level of service—providing improved interconnectivity and low-cost, convenient alternatives to driving.
Reflecting the input provided by local police, fire, ambulance and first responders, the design will enable enhanced emergency response and evacuation readiness. State-of-the-art safety features in the new tunnel include a separate escape corridor, jet fans, deluge system, fire sensors, fire alarms/extinguishers/hose connections, motorist aid phones, fireproofing and video monitoring for traveler safety.
With the opening of the new Midtown Tunnel, there will be two lanes going east, two going west. Bi-directional traffic in the existing Midtown Tunnel will be eliminated—thus increasing the capacity for emergency response and evacuation readiness.
Toll roads operate more efficiently and safely without toll booths. “Gantries” over the roadway collect the toll electronically—with no cash option, no stopping or slowing. Drivers are encouraged to maintain normal travel speeds.
Gantries will be located on the west side of the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels, and on access points to the MLK Extension.