PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - Elizabeth River Crossings and the Virginia Department of Transportation broke ground for the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project Thursday.
Spokeswoman for ERC Leila Rice said the public-private partnership project will include river dredging, work on the Martin Luther King Expressway Extension in Portsmouth, a new tube for the Midtown Tunnel and rehabilitation of the Downtown Tunnel.
Thursday's kickoff focused on the economic impact the project is expected to have on Hampton Roads. Job creation is expected to include more than $1 billion.
"It is an economic boost to the region and we are just proud to be a partner to deliver this significant transportation solution," Elizabeth River Crossings CEO Greg Woodsmall said.
According to Rice, $150 million in contracts have already been awarded to minority-owned businesses like the Bryant-Ritter Hewitt Electric Corporation.
"We are in the early stages of the project and are already increased our staff by 15 percent and have been able to rehire electricians due to lack of work," Susan Ritter said.
However, the event was more ceremonial as officials did not comment much on the possibility of tolls.
"It is difficult to talk about that because it is a matter that is in the courts," VDOT Commisioner of Highways Gregory Whirley said.
"Our issue is the contract. The contract has flaws and is unconstitutional," Portmsouth Mayor Kenny Wright, an avid supporter of "fight the tolls" group said.
Those opposed to tolls are taking the entire project to court and will argue unelected bodies like VDOT and the public-private partnership it is involved in should not be able to tax citizens.
"I am convinced Virginia will win this lawsuit. I am 100 percent confident that we are on the right side of the law," Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said. "While the short-term benefits bring jobs, the long-term benefits will greatly improve safety, connectivity and the overall transportation network in the region."
The project is set to create 200 permanent jobs.
"We at ERC consider it a privilege to be able to make a positive impact on the economic growth and development of the Hampton Roads region," Woodsmall said.
Click here for complete coverage of the tunnel project and the tolls expected.
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