Downtown Tunnel: First in Virginia

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

An informational article, written and edited by The Ghost-Bull, about a historic tunnel in Hampton Roads, Virginia.


Downtown Tunnel

First of Virginia




What originated with the name “Norfolk-Portsmouth Bridge-Tunnel” created a major impact in Virginia, of the United States. Her history holds as the first underwater tunnel system created within the state, opening in 1952, on May 23rd. Eventually, modifying to the title “Downtown Tunnel”, she has, now, climbed to the age of 70. Before the birth of the historic tunnelway was a ferry system traveling vehicles across the Elizabeth River, from the city of Portsmouth to the city of Norfolk—and vice versa.

On March 4th, 1987, a secondary tube was created, called the “Eastbound”, directing Portsmouth’s traffic to a split—with the left exit merging to the end of “Interstate 464, North”, approaching the Berkley Bridge, and the right exit looping to “Interstate 464, South”. Becoming the “Westbound” tunnel, the original tube traveled bi-directional traffic with two lanes, changing by the creation of the second tube. Exiting the Westbound, “Interstate 262” continues for approximately 10 kilometers. Stretching 3,350 feet, in length, would be the Westbound tunnel as the Eastbound tunnel out-stretches the other by 463 feet, in length.

Of both tunnels, the lowest point reaches 92 feet beneath the lowest expectation of the sea level, surrounding the Elizabeth River, based on the tide of the day. The traffic’s speed limit of each bound is set to 35 miles-per-hour, providing motorists a travel that is not too swift—and dangerous—or too sluggish. To the bulkhead of each corner, interior of the tunnelways, are bright white lights, lined side-by-side. Both tunnelways have a clearance of 13 feet and 6 inches, making it possible for nearly any vehicle to enter.  

Unknown by a great count of locals, in the region of Hampton Roads, the “Downtown Tunnel” system actually runs beneath the Northern end of B.A.E. Systems—in Berkley, Norfolk—and Ocean Yacht Marina—belonging to Portsmouth. Along with the Eastbound travel way, traffic of “Interstate 264” and “Route 460, Alternate” are carried through the old, historic, tunnel. Often, the Downtown Tunnel system may be confused with the “Midtown Tunnel” system, which is structured North-East of the location. As well, the Midtown sits between both cities.

Since birth of the first underwater tunnel system, in Virginia, a toll is actively serviced. Costing 20 cents per axle and 5 extra cents per passenger were the original pricings, passing through a toll booth—which no-longer exists, and replaced by a camera-shot of any vehicle’s license plate. Soon, the price eased-off to a simple 25 cents, per crossing. In modern day, the price rises to $6.37, depending on the time of the day. Having an “E-Z Pass” will leave a price of $2.50, at most.

Which are shown by records, nearly 73,000 vehicles cross the Downtown Tunnel system, per day. By 1953, vehicles traveling through her ranged as little as 13,000. In path for some of her high-scaled traffic, the Berkley Bridge stands about a ‘500 meter’ distance between the entrance of the Westbound tube and the exit of the Eastbound tube. Too, the draw bridge is aged at 70 years, opening the exact year as the Westbound tube. “Nowhere else, in Virginia, can you come out of a tunnel and cross a draw bridge.”, lectured by former V.D.O.T. (Virginia Department of Transportation) Chief Engineer, Jack Hodge. As the Berkley Bridge sends traffic to a halt, motorists inside the Eastbound tunnel may come into a complete stoppage, which could leave many in discomfort for being surround by water on all sides.

In the region of Hampton Roads are no more than 5 underwater tunnel systems for motorist traffic. The list includes the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, Midtown Tunnel, and the Downtown Tunnel.

Secondly constructed was the H.R.B.T. as she opened in ’57—laying between the city of Hampton and the city of Norfolk, traveling traffic of “Interstate 64”. A second tunnel was created in 1976, separating the directions of traffic. Both consists of 2 lanes.

Thirdly, the Midtown Tunnel opened, for travel, in ’62. Previously stated, she is often confused with the Downtown Tunnel. Midtown travels “Route 58”. Located nearby, Norfolk side, are “Sentara: Norfolk General Hospital” and “C.H.K.D.” (Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters). A secondary tunnel opened in the year of 2016, holding two lanes, just as the first.

Fourthly, built in Hampton Roads is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Her Bridge-Tunnel complex is marked the world’s longest, with a ‘17.6 mile’ span.  In 1964, she opened for motorists. Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is also known to be highly dangerous for commercial truckers, taking the lives of many throughout the time of her existence, due to heavy winds shoving them off the bridge. She is also named the “Lucius J. Kellam Bridge-Tunnel”, honoring him for spearheading the project , though, the bridgeway is dangerous for travel.

Lastly, the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel opened for thru-traffic in ‘92. She travels “Interstate 664”. Often, auto-collision occur within the actual tunnel as many motorists swap lanes, exceed the speed limit, and fail to focus on their driving. Her tunnel is to be entered with extreme caution.



Written by Troy “The Ghost-Bull” Powell

Submitted: July 05, 2022

© Copyright 2022 The Ghost-Bull. All rights reserved.

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