Elizabeth River Tunnels Named ENR Project of the Year

Engineering News-Record (ENR) magazine has named the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project as its national Project of the Year.

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Nearly 700 construction projects across the U.S. entered the Best Projects competition, with many winning awards in one of ENR’s 10 regional competitions in 20 project categories. Industry experts served as judges for the competitions, and category winners from each region competed for national honors.

In addition to the Project of the Year Award, Elizabeth River Tunnels was the winner in the highway/bridge category and won the Excellence in Safety award. The "Best of the Best" awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York City on April 5-6.

Two other WSP projects—the Second Avenue Subway and 56 Leonard, both in New York City—were among 20 finalists for the Project of the Year Award and winners in the airport/transit and residential categories, respectively.

The Elizabeth River Tunnels Project in the Hampton Roads region of Southern Virginia, included the construction of the 4,000-foot-long, two-lane West Midtown Tunnel for U.S. Route 58. The public-private project also included rehabilitation and improvements to the existing Downtown Tunnels, Midtown Tunnel, and a one-mile extension of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway—an elevated four-lane, north-south expressway with a raised median.

WSP was the lead designer for SKW Constructors, the design-builder for the project owner, Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC). ERC now manages tunnel operations for the Virginia Department of Transportation as part of a 58-year concession.

The tunnel carries westbound traffic under the Elizabeth River between Norfolk and Portsmouth. It was built to relieve congestion and improve safety by eliminating the Midtown Tunnel’s bi-directional traffic. The original tunnel, which accommodated 8,400 vehicles a day when it opened in 1962, now supports 38,000 vehicles every day.

“The additional connectivity between the new tunnel and MLK freeway connection have greatly improved traffic in both cities,” said Fred Parkinson, WSP project manager.

The tunnel features bright, long-lasting, and efficient LED lighting, and will be the first Virginia tunnel to use an all-electronic toll collection system. The intelligent transportation system includes 60 closed-circuit cameras with automated incident detection capability and dynamic message signs along the project corridors.

The project was completed in June 2017, nearly one year ahead of schedule. It has received numerous awards, including the 2017 Excellence in Design award for engineering from the Design-Build Institute of America, and it was one of five finalists for the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award.

“We’re all excited and proud that project has been recognized across the industry as an innovative solution that improved mobility across the region,” Parkinson said. “The travelling public has welcomed the better traffic flow and improved safety and user experience at the three existing tunnels.”


The Elizabeth River Tunnels Project included the construction of the 4,000-foot-long, two-lane West Midtown Tunnel for U.S. Route 58.

Tunnel Challenges

WSP recommended an all-concrete option for the two-lane tunnel over a more conventional design using a steel tube encased in concrete. This design offered substantial economic savings that resulted from changing the immersed-tube sections to a shallower rectangular configuration, reducing the scale of the steel fabrication.

The tunnel was constructed by piecing together 11 hollow concrete tunnel segments, averaging 350 feet in length, 28 feet high and 54 feet wide.

SKW transported each 16,000-ton segment from a fabrication site at Sparrows Point, Maryland, 200 miles north of the construction site. The segments were towed through the Chesapeake Bay, with all but about two feet of the segment submerged during transit, then placed within the dredged trench under the Elizabeth River by adding water to the ballast tanks that immersed the segments into position.

The tunnel measures 4,198 feet from portal to portal, and the total length of the tunnel is 5,441 feet from end to end. It required digging a trench that is up to 95 feet deep below the river bottom.

This excavation site also presented a few challenges during construction. Located near the existing Midtown Tunnel, the project could not disrupt traffic in the other tunnel. It was also located within the confines of an active federal maritime channel with heavy traffic. Poor soil conditions required major pile formations or massive undercuts, while an oyster reef near the excavation area had to be protected from exposure to sediment.

Five storm water pump stations, two buildings, and two bridges for the Elizabeth River Trail were also key components of the project. Significant permitting was required for the use of an offshore disposal site for dredge materials and a 4,200-foot directional drill for a 36-inch raw water main under the Elizabeth River.


Second Avenue Subway stations are free of columns and include mezzanines between the street and the train platforms, making the stations much more spacious.

Second Avenue Subway

Second Avenue Subway (phase 1) in New York City was the top project in the ENR airport/transit category. WSP served as the construction manager.

Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway extends 1.8 miles under Second Avenue from 63rd Street to 96th Street, and includes new stations at 72nd Street, 86th Street and 96th Street.

An estimated 213,000 passengers use the new subway line every day, which has reduced overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line, two blocks to the west.

Much of the two-track line was built using cut-and-cover tunnel boring technology, and mining was used on two station caverns and in areas that were too short to make tunnel boring cost-effective. Nearby utilities and buildings—some more than 100 years old—required extreme care during construction. On one section of tunnel, no tunnel boring was needed, as it had been excavated in the 1970s before construction was halted on an initial attempt to build the Second Avenue Subway.

Tom Peyton, project director, oversaw WSP’s work with Garry Nunes, principal-in-charge.


Since its completion in 2016, 56 Leonard has taken its place as one of the most distinct skyscrapers on the Manhattan skyline.

56 Leonard

56 Leonard in New York City was the recipient of the top honor in the residential category. WSP served as the structural engineer for the 57-story building owned by Alexico Group and Hines. The residential tower previously won the 2017 ENR-NY Best Project award in the residential/hospitality category.

56 Leonard has been nicknamed the “Jenga Building” for its cantilevered balconies that resemble the popular stacking game, Herzog and de Meuron’s architectural design created a collection of distinctive homes stacked up to a height of 825 feet.

The building, which was near full occupancy just seven months after it opened, has taken its place among the most iconic structures in the New York City skyline.

Additional award for the building include the SEAoNY (Structural Engineers Association of New York) Excellence in Structural Engineering award and the Concrete Industry Board Award of Merit with Special Recognition-Design.

Silvian Marcus served as principal-in-charge and Hezi Mena was the project manager.

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