Breaking Ground on a New Era: CBBT Begins Work on First Parallel Tunnel

By Stefanie Jackson — Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel staff, Virginia politicians, and local citizens gathered together on Island One on Sept. 18 to reflect on CBBT history before “tunneling forward” to its future, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Thimble Shoal parallel tunnel project.

The actual groundbreaking occurred four weeks prior at Island Two at Thimble Shoal, with heavy equipment operators already hard at work to make way for the parallel tunnel at the southern end of the CBBT, near Virginia Beach. Construction will begin at Island One on Oct. 1, following the closings of the fishing pier on Sept. 30, and the Virginia Originals gift shop and Chesapeake Grill restaurant on Sept. 24.

The 12 members of the CBBT Commission were recognized, who include Executive Director Jeffrey Holland, Chairman Frederick Stant, Vice Chairman Thomas Meehan, and Secretary-Treasurer of the Commonwealth Transportation Board John Malbon; Chris Snead, Jeffrey Rowland, Karen James, and Reeves Mahoney, of the Tidewater region; and Eastern Shore members Robert Bloxom Sr., Paul Bibbins, Jeffrey Walker, and Stephen Johnson. Each commissioner works five to 20 hours per month in ongoing support of the CBBT. Also recognized was Lucius Kellam Jr., the first chairman of the commission when it formed in 1954.

The common theme heard throughout the ceremony was the uniquely Virginian foundation on which the CBBT’s success is built and maintained, with commissioners and politicians working closely together. Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne said the CBBT “has been successful because the commission took the politics out.” Del. Robert Bloxom Jr. called the CBBT “a government entity run like a business.” Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam said, “We do things the Virginia way … we put partisanship aside … and do what’s best for Virginia.” Sen. Lynwood Lewis said the CBBT “has been run in a very Virginian fashion … a model for other facilities to emulate.”

Speakers emphasized the CBBT costs less per mile than other bridges and tunnels along the east coast. The continued operation, maintenance, and expansion of this lifeline across the Chesapeake Bay would not be possible if the 1964 toll cost of $4 had never been raised. The original bridge and two-tunnel system cost around $100 million to complete in 1964; the third tunnel, undergoing construction next month, will cost $756 million. The parallel tunnel will relieve traffic congestion near Virginia Beach during the busy summer tourist season, and will serve as redundancy to the original tunnels in case of an emergency. 

When the new Thimble Shoal tunnel opens, it will serve southbound traffic, with the old tunnel serving northbound traffic.

Monday’s groundbreaking was the first of four ceremonies celebrating milestones of the CBBT parallel tunnel project. The second will occur in approximately 12 months, after manufacture of the tunnel boring machine is completed in Germany and the finished product is transferred in sections to the CBBT worksite. The third, when construction reaches the opposite end of the tunnel, is scheduled for 2020, with the final ribbon-cutting set for 2022.

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