American City & County’s 2016 Crown Communities
Completed in November 2016, Chesapeake, Va.’s Dominion Boulevard Improvement Project was the largest locally administered project in the state’s history. The project was one of the first to use the funds from the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank (VTIB) Loan Program. It was completed approximately $20 million under budget and five months before its contractual completion date.
Dominion Boulevard is a portion of U.S. Route 17, which connects Virginia and North Carolina through Virginia Interstates 64 and 464. The boulevard had included the moveable Steel Bridge, which traverses the southern branch of the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake. With 33,000 daily vehicles traveling on a two-lane road rife with heavy truck traffic, Dominion Boulevard was also heavily congested. Moreover, the Steel Bridge’s lift times equated to it being closed 42 days per year. The stretch’s unreliability as a hurricane escape route coupled with a high accident rate compounded concerns.
Tolls — which would contribute 40 percent of the project’s funding — were instated in the early 2000s. In 2011, the VTIB was established to provide low interest loans for financing high priority transportation projects. Desiring the lowest tolls possible, Chesapeake qualified for the first VTIB loan in January 2012, which provided nearly $152 million in funding. Federal and state funds as well as existing reserves and earnings financed the remainder. A team of four companies formed to handle construction, which began in January 2013.
By October, some traffic had been diverted to a long-term detour running parallel to Dominion Boulevard, and the Steel Bridge was demolished in January 2015. During construction, wick drains were installed to encourage soil drainage and a temporary concrete plant was built to make construction more efficient. Throughout the construction process, Chesapeake staff used a digital animation to show motorists and residents the intended goal of the renovations. A dedicated website, social media account and opt-in alert system also provided residents with important information updates.
Ultimately, the project replaced the Steel Bridge with the Veterans’ Bridge, a 95-foot high fixed span bridge with four traffic lanes and a 10-foot bicycle path separated from vehicular traffic. Additionally, it removed stoplights from a three-mile stretch of the Dominion Boulevard roadway and introduced interchanges to parts of the road. The Veterans’ Bridge also has less congestion, an improved hurricane evacuation route and faster public safety response times. It opened to the public in November 2016, and electronic tolling was scheduled to begin in December 2016.
“We’ve had a very positive response from citizens since the opening of the new roadway,” Chesapeake Public Information Coordinator Elizabeth Vaughan says. “And really, the best response we get is no response at all. No congestion complaints, no construction complaints, just quick and easy commuting.”
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