PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - This is the week to plot a new course if you take the Downtown Tunnel from Norfolk to Portsmouth at night.
Just hours after WAVY.com's report about the tunnel closures, Elizabeth River Crossings announced the closures were delayed until Thursday. The closures were to begin at 8 p.m. Monday for construction work that will reduce lanes during the week and shut down the westbound tube completely on weekends.
"I'm furious about it," said Downtown Portsmouth Businessman Charles Greenhood.
Greenhood owns Bruiti's Restaurant and holds a comedy night there every Friday night. But lately there's not been a lot to laugh about.
"It's going to make a paradigm shift in the way people spend their travel time. If they think it's not worth it to spend an hour waiting, they won't come to Portsmouth. That's what is going to happen. That is my crystal ball," Greenhood said.
Greenhood and many others are upset with VDOT and its private partner Elizabeth River Crossings for the closings that will last more than 25 weeks. The eastbound tube closures will come after the westbound work is finished and will take longer because the ceiling must be taken down.
"It's a terrible impact. I think the businesses in Portsmouth, not only in Olde Towne, will be hurt," Greenhood said.
To help with maneuvering around the closures, the Portsmouth City website has a link called "All Roads Lead to Portsmouth."
"All Roads Lead to Portsmouth shows the routes you can take to circumvent the tunnel...and the work being done on roads," said Councilman Bill Moody.
The lane and tube closures are for tunnel rehabilitation which includes, which includes the following:
- tunnel fireproofing for structural protection
- a new directional jet fan ventilation system
- a new tunnel lighting system
- relocating fire alarms, extinguishers and water hydrants
"It may not necessarily happen every night, but motorists should expect a lane to be closed every night from 8 .p.m to 5 a.m., Monday -Thursday," said Leila Rice with ERC.
Greenhood says VDOT and ERC are racing to do as much tunnel work as possible before the State Supreme Court appeal hearing on whether the tolls they want to put on the tunnels are constitutional happens in September.
"I don't know if it's payback as much as it is getting as much done before the appeals come into play," said Tony Goodwin, President of the Olde Towne Business Association.
Goodwin points out the closures in the westbound tube were to take place in October, but that was moved up to August, before the September court hearing.
"Our design build contractor always had a window of time," Rice said. "It could have been as late as October, but could be any time between July and October."
Moody also thinks there is something more to moving up the lane and tunnel closure dates.
"They are looking for leverage with the judges -- that we've spent all this money, and we're too far down the road...too much has been invested," he said.
"The work has nothing to do with the lawsuit," Rice said. "The lawsuit dealt with tolls not the construction. The construction continues to move forward."
Toll opponents argue the more work done to the tunnels, the harder it will be to turn back from installing tolls.
The toll gantries and cameras are already installed, even before the determination is made on whether the tolls are constitutional.
"We have a contract with VDOT and the Commonwealth of Virginia," said Rice. "We will deliver the project, so we continue to abide by our contract to deliver the project."
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