August 2022 Edition
A Message From the Project Director
Jim Utterback
It is unbelievable to think it is already August. Despite rising temperatures, the team has been hard at work ensuring that we continue to advance progress and minimize impact to motorists. Over the past four weeks we have had recognizable progress on the South Island.

  • First, in the South Island launch pit, Cell 3, we completed one of the largest continuous concrete pours in VDOT’s history. Crews placed 3,580 cubic yards of concrete over a 24-hour period. With a pour of this magnitude there is a risk that the quality of the concrete could be affected, especially with the summertime heat. However, HRCP crews used an innovative method involving liquid nitrogen to keep the concrete cooled to the appropriate temperature as it was placed and then subsequently cured.

  • Another highlight moment was watching the crew construct and then lower the sealing ring into the launch pit headwall (pictured below). Setting this 46-foot-diameter steel ring was an engineering feat, and this ring will allow the cutterhead to make a clean initial cut into the headwall when Mary begins her tunneling process.

  • Then just at the end of last month, another enormous concrete slab took shape for the Slurry Treatment Plant (STP) slab on the South Island. Over the course of four months, crews have been laying tons of rebar for this slab that will serve as part of the foundation for Katherine, the STP. This plant, which will be assembled this fall, will receive the excavated materials from Mary and separate the sediment from the water so the materials can be disposed of properly.
If that’s not enough excitement, crews have begun preparing the southeast side of the South Island for connection to the new bridge trestle structures. Specifically, crews are nearing the halfway point for subsurface jet-grouting activities to stabilize the ground that will soon become the tunnel exit leading onto the bridge trestles heading towards Norfolk.

Additional marine work continues near the South and North Islands, along with widening and rehabilitation activities on the bridges at Mallory Street, Oastes Creek, Mason Creek and Willoughby Bay. For the new bridge trestles across the harbor, over 500 of the 1200 concrete pilings have already been driven (pictured below). In a variety of areas across the harbor, you may also see steel pilings in the waterway, which are temporary materials for bridges that will support short-term traffic routing until the permanent structures are completed. I-64 widening continues throughout the project corridor, and motorists will frequently see crews working in the median in Norfolk and Hampton.
We have been busy at the project site and in the community answering questions, giving presentations, and raising awareness about the project and our progress. Our outreach team would be happy to present to your group. Please contact our Communications team by emailing and keep an eye on our social media as we continue to share exciting activities.

Most importantly, don’t drive distracted, stay alert, obey the speed limits, and let’s make sure our construction crews get home safe every day.

Safe Travels,

Jim Utterback
Project Director
HRCP Construction Update
Hampton Roads Connector Partners (HRCP) construction crews have been busy advancing work in the tri-cell launch shaft on the South Island. The crews are preparing it for use in assembling -- and later launching -- the tunnel boring machine.
Following completion of the excavation stage of the shaft in mid-July, HRCP conducted a very large 24-hour concrete pour in (Cell 3) of the launching pit. More than 358 truckloads of concrete (totaling 3,580 cubic yards, or 14.5 million pounds) were delivered and placed to form the 7-foot-thick base slab of Cell 3. This massive operation involved more than 100 personnel onsite, including HRCP operations staff, safety and environmental team members, quality control inspectors, concrete truck drivers from North Carolina and Northern Virginia supplementing their Hampton Roads colleagues, and multiple concrete pump truck operators.
Picture 1 shows crews placing the delivered concrete from the pump trucks, located on the island surface above the shaft, into the rebar structure at the bottom of the shaft.  
Picture 2 shows the entire launch shaft (all three cells) with the Cell 3 concrete slab covered with thermal blankets to protect the slab during the curing process. After the concrete curing period and thermal control period, where the newly poured concrete completes a chemical reaction known as hydration and the concrete cools from a peak of 170 degrees F, the base slab will be ready to support the assembly of the Tunnel Boring Machine gantries, or trailing gear, that form the majority of Mary’s 440-foot length.
Project Progress Photos
Lights, Camera, Expansion! Project Progress Photos
The center pier for the southern half of the new Mallory Street Bridge in Hampton is formed and ready for concrete.
Falsework in the median of I-64 in Hampton supports the pier-cap formwork for the new Mallory Street Bridge.
In the South Island launch shaft, the horizontal concrete strut at top will support one of the two travel rails for the gantry crane.
Mary’s signature blue, green, and white cutterhead is welded back together inside a protective tent during round-the-clock operations.
The sealing ring (“shuttering pipe”) for Mary’s entrance into the future tunnel is lowered into place at the headwall in the South Island shaft.
Interested in the daily activity at the HRBT Expansion Project? Wondering about the widening? Excited about the expansion? Now available on the HRBT Expansion website, citizens can view images from the project cameras located throughout the project corridor.
The Birds Are Back in Town: An Update on Our Canine Colleagues at Flyway Geese
For three years now, trained Border Collies have been encouraging multiple protected species of sea birds from nesting on the busy South Island in an effort to protect the birds, workers and project equipment. Without these efforts by our environmental team, there could be major delays during the nesting season. The dogs, outfitted with protective goggles, vests and boots, work rotating shifts around the clock, and get two days off per week.

Though the work is demanding, each dog is pampered on the weekends by on-site groomers. Weekly, they get bathed, have their nails trimmed, and are fed a high fat and high protein diet to keep each canine moving at full energy. With praise from PETA and The Humane Society, the program shows no signs of stopping as the dogs prepare to transition into their “off-season” this fall when the sea birds migrate, and this critical canine service is no longer needed.
According to Rebecca Gibson, owner of Flyway Geese, the birds have figured it out. After two years of coaxing them off the island over to Fort Wool, this third year revealed that the birds have fully adopted the new migratory pattern and now voluntarily plan their “summer stays” at Fort Wool.
Zoe has been on the project since 2019 and now serves as leader of the pack
Flo leads the pack in her detection skills
Some of our canine colleagues have been long-standing members of the HRBT Expansion project crew. “When HRCP first hired us, there was nothing but asphalt and birds,” remarked Gibson. “Now, our team and the collies have seen the North Island double in size and the transformation of the South Island in preparation for the TBM.” One dog in particular, Zoe, is a veteran of the project. She was just six months when she began patrolling the project, and now at three years old, she is one of the dogs leading the pack.

Handlers note the dogs are people-friendly and occasionally enjoy a good pat on the back. But like any dedicated worker, they remain focused on the task, ensuring the birds make their way across the channel to Fort Wool so they can nest safely and maintain the future bird population.
Connecting with the Community
The HRBT Expansion Project Team has dedicated time this summer, sharing project progress, updates and highlights to citizens in Hampton Roads. From school enrichment programs to business leadership organizations, the HRBT Expansion Project has been the talk of the town.

Some of the groups and organizations included on the community conversations were:

  • Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization
  • Horizon Hampton Roads Summer Enrichment Camp
  • East Beach Farmer’s Market 
  • Fort Monroe Music by the Bay

The HRBT Expansion Project team remains committed to connecting and communicating to the public. 

If you would like a team member to present to your business, group or organization, email us at or call 757.858.6776.
Employee Spotlight: Sanah Lyles
Sanah Lyles, Project Controls Specialist for the HRBT Expansion Project, has been with VDOT’s project team since 2019 while simultaneously serving as a 1st Class Machinist in the U.S. Navy Reserves.

Sanah’s skillset and advanced knowledge base includes document control, project controls, and computer-aided design (CADD). With her teammates, Sanah provides all project reports and helps manage the flow of information between the builder, HRCP and the project owner, VDOT. A seasoned traveler, Disney fanatic, wife, and mother of four, Sanah was drawn to the historic project because of Mary, the one-of-a-kind, enormous Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM).
Working full-time and handling all the duties that come with being a wife and mom, Sanah earned her degree in Project Management this past year.
Even with a strong community of professionals supporting her journey, it was no small feat for an immigrant from Pakistan. At 13, she immigrated with her family to the United States and didn’t speak a word of English. Her spirit of perseverance and grit is what Sanah credits as the secret to her success.

On working in such a male-dominated field, Sanah remarked that the HRBT Expansion Project has a multitude of women in leadership positions. She credits mentors like VDOT’s consultant project manager Michelle Martin for her growth, citing ongoing encouragement and professional guidance. Sanah’s advice, “Lean on your friends and do not be afraid to ask for help. Every time I wanted to quit, I asked for help. This community helped me understand and navigate whatever issues I had troubling me. It's truly a community of women supporting other women.”
The HRBT Expansion Project crosses a federal waterway, connects two Hampton Roads cities, constructs twin two-lane tunnels, and – under live traffic – replaces or rehabilitates 28 bridges along the corridor. A project of this magnitude must be equipped with the necessary tools, from the smallest of nuts and bolts to the complexity of Mary, the TBM. It takes a robust “toolbox” to bring it all together. The giant gantry crane pictured below is one of the most eye-catching pieces of equipment that will aid in the tunneling process.
A main job of this gantry crane is to move the concrete segments, which will form the tunnel rings, from barges into the South Island launching pit. For this job, the gantry crane rolls on rails from the quay’s barge slip to a travel way directly above the shaft.  After the concrete segments arrive from the precast facility in Cape Charles, VA, the gantry crane will stack them on or near the quay for storage until needed by the TBM. Once lowered into the shaft, the segments will be placed on motorized multi-service vehicles (MSVs) that then transport these segments to the TBM for ring building.
The electric-powered crane, weighing in at 185 US tons, has a four-cable main hoist that connects to a segment clamp, which is the lifting device that will be used to lift and rotate the 36-ton stacks of segments safely. Additionally, the crane has an auxiliary hook for lifting any smaller items that may be needed during construction. The main hoist has a working capacity of 44 US tons, and the smaller auxiliary hook can lift 5.5 US tons.
We Want to Hear From You!
What is a TBM? How far underground are the new tunnels going to be built? Why did the birds leave the bridge? We know you have been following the HRBT Expansion Project and may have tons of questions. Ask Away! Now is your chance to ask our subject matter experts your questions via the HRBT Expansion call in line! Call 757.304.0305 to submit your question and you may have your inquiry answered on an upcoming episode of HRBT Tunnel Talk.
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