Virginia’s new Midtown Tunnel begins with a trip down the Chesapeake Bay

The SKW Constructors team – a joint venture of Skanska, Kiewit and Weeks Marine – that’s designing and building the Elizabeth River Tunnels project had a major milestone this week: floating six, 14,000-ton hollow concrete tunnel elements, and then starting the process of towing them from the Baltimore-area graving dock where they were cast to the southeastern Virginia project site where they will double capacity of the Midtown Tunnel. The 350-foot-long elements will make the 220-mile trip down the Chesapeake Bay one at a time, a process taking several weeks.

This $2.1 billion public-private partnership project will improve mobility throughout the Hampton Roads region. Click here to read a news story about this undertaking.

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At about 4 a.m. Monday, water begins to flood the graving dock at the Sparrows Point, Md., casting site.

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Six elements afloat in the graving dock, while team members monitor for potential leaks.

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The 350-foot-long tunnel elements – each with a slightly different shape to fit the roadway’s curvature – seemed much smaller once some 25 feet of water was let into the graving dock. (Photo by Jay Westcott)

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Nine tugboats were used in moving the six elements from the Baltimore-area graving dock to a nearby pier to await transit to the Portsmouth, Va., project site. (Photo by Jay Westcott)

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The safety talk we held before tugboat operations started Monday night ensured that the team was prepared for and understood the unique hazards presented by this activity. (Photo by Jay Westcott)

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The Philadelphia-based tugboat Honor, named for the victims of the September 11 attacks, was the lead vessel bringing the first element to Portsmouth, Va. (Photo by Jay Westcott)

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The first element to leave the Maryland graving dock arrives at a temporary mooring site in the Baltimore harbor.

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The final element leaves the graving dock. It’s also the first one to depart directly for Portsmouth, Va.

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The final element was taken directly from the Maryland casting site to the project site in Portsmouth, Va.

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The first element to head for Portsmouth, Va., is maneuvered by four tugboats – with a fifth waiting – in the Baltimore harbor.

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Divers inspected the seal surrounding the graving dock gate. No rest for this team – tomorrow the gate will be back in place, the water will be pumped out and they will begin constructing the next five tunnel elements.

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The empty Maryland graving dock on Tuesday – an unusual sight after more than a year spent producing the 14,000-ton elements. By the following day, the dock was drained and our teams were readying to assemble the final five elements.


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As massive as the tunnel element is, it looks small amid the Chesapeake Bay’s waters. Here, the element nears the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel on Friday as it approaches its destination in Portsmouth, Va. (Photo by Jay Westcott)

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It has arrived! Four days after it left Sparrows Point, Md., the first element was secured at Portsmouth Marine Terminal in Virginia at about 4:30 p.m. Friday. Only five more elements to move in this batch. (Photo by Jay Westcott)

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • David Dennis June 21, 2016, 3:01 pm

    This was a very fun and challenging project. As the head QC welding inspector, I preformed all of the Visual, Ultrasonic, Liquid Penetrant, and Vacuum Leak Testing on all of the welded elements.


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