Two years ago, transportation officials, clad in suit and ties, donned hard hats and broke ground on the first segment of the Interstate 64 widening project.
That day, Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne called it a “long-sought-after project.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe called the widening a matter of improving “quality of life.”
Now, on the second anniversary of the groundbreaking, the I-64 widening project is right on schedule. Barring any major weather or setbacks, the 5.6-mile segment that started Sept. 8, 2015 will be completed Dec. 1.
In the meantime, there’s work to do.
Tasks are divvied up between crews from the Virginia Department of Transportation and Shirley Contracting — the Lorton-based contractor to which VDOT awarded a $84.8 million contract to design and build Segment I, which spans from just west of Jefferson Avenue (exit 255) to east of Yorktown Road (exit 247).
Widening includes adding a 12-foot-wide travel lane and 12-foot-wide shoulder in both directions, making the corridor a six-lane road. Crews also are repairing and rebuilding bridges at Fort Eustis Boulevard, the Lee Hall Reservoir and Industrial Parkway, lengthening the on- and off-ramps to Fort Eustis Boulevard and installing a sound barrier wall along the project.
There’s also clearing between Fort Eustis Boulevard and Industrial Park Drive for ramp extensions, joint repairs and slab replacements at the Lee Hall Reservoir and Fort Eustis Bridges and adding pier caps for east and westbound bridges over Industrial Park Drive.
“We have our work cut out for us,” said Robbie Roberts, senior project manager for Shirley Contracting.
On a recent Wednesday, Roberts weaved through the construction, waving to workers he knew by name and pointing out different projects along the corridor. Superintendent Hank Davis, who Roberts said “has been here since day one” operated an excavator before the Fort Eustis Boulevard off-ramp, which will be extended about a quarter-mile. It’s not normal for a superintendent to be driving the excavator, but it’s crunch time, Roberts said. After they excavate the lane, crews will add a 30-inch slab of concrete and asphalt.
The most challenging stretch, Roberts said, is the westbound stretch between Industrial Park Drive and Fort Eustis Boulevard where crews are still putting in starfish-printed sound walls, ramp extensions and a bridge over the CSX railroad tracks.
He attributed the speediness of the project to a design-build model — a technique favored by some because it allows construction to begin while designers are still building plans.
“We’ve now got the funds; how quickly can we deliver this project to the public?” Roberts said.
Virginia state code allows contracts for transportation projects to be awarded on a design-build basis contingent on the fact that “delivery of the projects must be expedited and that it is not in the public interest to comply with the design and construction contracting procedures normally followed.”
The model is ideal, but it also brings a unique set of obstacles.
“Design-build are inherently fast-tracked jobs so scheduling is a challenge from day one,” Roberts said.
The project’s budget is $144 million — $100 million is federal and state funds, and $44 million comes from the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund, which is overseen by the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission and gets its money from sales and fuel tax. According to HRTAC’s monthly executive report in July, the project was about $10 million under budget so far.
HRTAC Executive Director Kevin Page said the project is running on time.
“It’s on track; it’s doing well. I believe VDOT and its contractors are doing a great job to stay on schedule, weather permitting,” he said.
Segment I is contracted separately than Segment II, which runs about 7 miles from Route 199 to Yorktown Road, where Segment I starts. Work on Segment III, which will overlap with Segment II, hasn’t started yet, but Shirley Contracting is vying for the job, Roberts said.
About 100,000 cars move through the 5-mile stretch daily, according to VDOT spokeswoman Brittany McBride.
"When you see the daily commuters going from east of the project to Fort Eustis, there’s going to be, I think, a huge, huge benefit when this gets done," Roberts said.
The groundbreaking came on the heels of a difficult year in the world of transportation. Earlier that summer, McAuliffe announced state funds designated for construction on U.S. 460 instead would be used to compensate the Elizabeth River Tunnels for tolls they planned to charge drivers to pay for the Martin Luther King freeway extension in Portsmouth.
McAuliffe referenced the tumult at the ceremony.
“It's taken a year to get us to this point. We have money to spend, we know we have congestion, let's go. Stop the bureaucracy and infighting. ... I'm not in any of that,” he said that day. “Let's get the job done.”
Mishkin can be reached by phone at 757-641-6669. Follow her on Twitter at @KateMishkin.