Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

HRBT expansion marks breakthrough as boring machine completes first new tunnel

A crew of four people wearing neon yellow safety vests and hard hats are seen working on a tunnel in Hampton Roads.
Ryan Murphy
Spanish boring machine crews celebrate as they complete boring on the first of two new HRBT tunnels.

Crews of workers from Spain who have dug an 8,000-foot tunnel under Hampton Roads for the past year waved Spanish flags and cheered from the top of a huge pit on the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel’s north island.

First, moisture started seeping through tiny cracks in the concrete wall. Then, a larger crack formed and water poured through.

Then, after a few seconds more of the crackling sound, a three-story tall circular section of concrete fell with an earth-shaking thud. Water used to cool the 430-foot long boring machine, nicknamed Mary, poured out as the massive drill broke through concrete and into fresh air for the first time in a year.

“I think what we just heard was the boom heard round Hampton Roads,” said project manager Ryan Banas. “We’ve been waiting for this for almost 30 years, since the early '90s. It’s a halfway point for us.”

A tunnel boring machine is seen breaking through an end of a tunnel that is under construction.
Ryan Murphy
The 430-foot-long tunnel boring machine — nicknamed Mary — breaks through the north end of the first 8,000 foot tunnel under Hampton Roads.

Wednesday’s breakthrough was marked with celebration, but moments later, the small crowd dispersed and went back to work.

During the next five months, Mary will execute the world’s longest three-point turn. Then, she’ll dig her way back to the Norfolk side, leaving two fresh tunnels to double the HRBT’s capacity once the bridge and road work is done.

The Virginia Department of Transportation announced last month that finishing the expansion project will take longer than originally planned.

Initially slated to wrap up at the end of next year, VDOT now expects work to continue until at least the fall of 2026.

Related Stories