Long gone are the days Gaynell Drummond’s family and others on the Peninsula would rely on a ferry to make trips from Hampton to Norfolk.
On Nov. 1, the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT) marked 50 years of meeting a critical transportation need in the region.
“We would all get dressed up on Sunday to take the ferry to Norfolk,” said Drummond, a resident of Hampton and a special collections librarian at the Hampton Public Library. But once the HRBT was built, “We were always excited to go through the tunnel.”
The original westbound two-lane toll structure replaced the ferry system at a cost of $44 million on Nov. 1, 1957, and the second $95 million segment of the HRBT followed in 1976.
Tolls were removed from the first structure at that time.
The 3.5-mi. (5.6 km) HRBT, the largest trench type tunnel built at that time, was originally constructed to handle average daily traffic counts of 70,000, but now, the facility serves in excess of 100,000 vehicles daily.
It consists of 23 double-shell steel tube tunnels, each approximately 300 ft. (91 m) long. The octagonal outer shell of the tube measures 37 ft. (11 m) in diameter, with the inner shell measuring 33 ft. (10 m). The tubes were fabricated by Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corporation of Eddystone, Pa.
It’s the most used bridge-tunnel in Virginia. Serving as a crossing for Interstate 64 and U.S. Route 60, the four-lane facility consists of bridges, trestles, man-made islands and tunnels under the main shipping channels for the Hampton Roads harbor in the southeastern portion of the state.
The HRBT, considered part of the Hampton Roads Beltway, connects the historic Phoebus area of Hampton near Fort Monroe on the Peninsula with Willoughby Spit in Norfolk on the southside.
As a result of the HRBT’s opening, both Hampton and Norfolk realized numerous advantages including economic growth, commerce and quality of life for residents, vacationers and travelers. In turn, the HRBT has become a regional landmark.
As part of the 50-year recognition, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has partnered with the city of Hampton to feature an exhibit at the Central Library located on 4207 Victoria Ave.
The exhibit, which opened Nov. 13, consists of memorabilia and photos dating back to the bridge’s origin and its early history. It is expect to run for approximately one month.
For more information, visit VirginiaDOT.org.