Water Line Relocation for Norfolk’s Elizabeth River Tunnel Project

Norfolk’s Elizabeth River Tunnel Project

Prior to the tunnel construction, Mears completed a raw water line relocation project by HDD that allowed the City of Norfolk to provide uninterrupted water service to residents.

Mears Group Inc. has successfully relocated a raw water line for SKW Constructors as part of the Midtown Tunnel project in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. SKW is a joint venture of Skanska/Weeks/Kiewit, which was contracted by Elizabeth River Crossings OpCo, LLC as the design-build contractor for this public-private project with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The raw water line relocation project consisted of installing an internally and externally coated 36-in. steel transmission pipe under the Elizabeth River using horizontal directional drilling (HDD) methods at the 4,500-ft long crossing, as well as installing ductile iron pipe using open-trench methods on the land portions with tie-ins to the existing raw water line.

The existing Midtown Tunnel is a two-lane tunnel under the Elizabeth River connecting the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth. This expansion project will add a new two-lane tunnel running parallel to the existing one – dedicating eastbound traffic for one tunnel and westbound for the other to increase the capacity for traffic between both cities. Prior to the tunnel construction (which requires dredging technique to install precast tunnel sections), the existing raw water line needed to be relocated.  Throughout the duration of this project, the City of Norfolk was able to provide uninterrupted water service to their Norfolk residents.

Mears was selected to handle the water line relocation portion of this high-profile project which included a tight construction schedule and challenging drilling geometry. As the sub-contractor, Mears supervised activities related to the onsite fabrication and handling of the HDD pipe by Patterson & Wilder, and the open-trench ductile pipe installation by T.A. Sheets, in Portsmouth and Norfolk.

Mears’ crews mobilized in December 2012 to install 60-in. casings on the entry and exit sides of the river crossing to mitigate the inadvertent return of drilling fluids in the upper strata of softer soils and isolate the problems with drilling through fill material. Once the casings were installed and reamed out, centralizers were installed to maintain the drill string in the centers of the casings during pilot-hole operation, as well as subsequent reaming passes.

Pilot-hole activities started in January, with 48-in. diameter reaming activities finishing in March 2013. The geometry of the 4,470-ft drill included two horizontal curves to circumvent existing and proposed structures within the new raw water line easement. The pilot hole was drilled using the intersect method, drilling from both the entry and exit sides and meeting beneath the Elizabeth River.  Mears’ 140,000-lb rig was stationed in Portsmouth at the pipe-side (or exit side), while Mears’ 1.1 million-lb. rig was positioned at the entry side in Norfolk. During HDD activities, installation of ductile iron pipe on the land portions, that included three auger bores, was progressing to maintain the aggressive relocation schedule.

On March 9 the product pipe was successfully pulled back under the Elizabeth River.  The final tie-ins to connect the existing raw water line with the newly installed HDD steel pipe section were completed by Mears’ sub-contractor, T.A. Sheets, in April 2013.

The project was well planned and skillfully managed at every stage. Each phase of the project had a concise work plan that was put in place to keep the project on track. The success and timely completion of this project contributes to Mears’ continued effort in high standards of quality and excellence.


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