WILLIAMSBURG – Shep Miller knew from the time he was named Virginia’s secretary of transportation in January, the widening of Interstate 64 from Bottoms Bridge to Williamsburg was important. Despite no funds for that 29-mile stretch at the time, he insisted the administration would find a way.
“It’s been a priority of this group. They’ve been pushing it. I’ve been pushing it. We’re all pushing together,” he said at Convergence 2022, a conference held October 13 at the Williamsburg Lodge that brought together CEOs, business leaders, and education leaders from Hampton Roads to Richmond.
Funds are now available for the $720 million project. The general assembly approved $470 million in its most recent two-year budget. The Central Virginia Transportation Authority has committed $100 million, and an application was submitted for another $150 million from a Virginia Department of Transportation grant.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” Miller said.
The annual conference was a collaboration among Chamber RVA, Hampton Roads Chamber, and RVA757 Connects, a nonprofit in Richmond that works to bring together groups and organizations from Richmond to Hampton Roads. The goal of the conference was to show everyone benefits when they work together. I-64 was a big topic of discussion.
In December 2021, work was completed on a 21-mile stretch of I-64 in Newport News, York County, and James City County that widened the interstate from two to three lanes in each direction. About a five-mile stretch of I-64 from Richmond to Bottoms Bridge also was recently widened to six lanes. But there’s a 29-mile gap from Exit 234 (in York County) to Exit 205 (Bottoms Bridge) that remains two lanes in each direction. That’s the final piece to improving travel between Richmond and Hampton Roads.
While Miller said the project will take a few years, requests will go out by the end of the year and construction could start late next year. He expects the work to be done in phases, just as the most recent project was.
“That will get us our best competition,” he said. “That won’t mean we won’t start one phase while another’s already going on, but it will give the contracting community a better opportunity to create competition.”
Miller noted if you combine Hampton Roads and Richmond, it’s the 17th largest economic region in the United States, with nearly 3 million residents. That includes numerous Fortune 500 companies, the largest concentration of military with all five branches represented, the top port in the country, and top-notch universities.
According to studies, Miller said the economic impact of the interstate project will result in travel time savings of $88 million annually. The project will be a big assist to the Port of Virginia, the fastest growing port in the nation.
As a primary evacuation route in case of emergency, I-64 holds even more importance. However, Miller’s been told, as the route is now, it would take 3 ½ to four days to evacuate everyone in Hampton Roads.
“We don’t know four days in advance. It’s always changing,” he said of possible weather-related emergencies. “If it takes four days to do it, it’s really a tough place to be. This will certainly help in that regard.”
Widening that stretch also is a safety measure.
“Fifty percent of crashes on I-64 from Route 81 to Chesapeake are in that gap,” he said. “We’ve just got to do something, and this will have an impact.”
John Martin, the president and CEO of RVA757 Connects, said it goes beyond all those factors.
“They’re not just economic benefits, they’re benefits with social equity, and having better roads and better access to underserved to get to jobs, and maximizing the Port of Virginia,” he said.
A release from VDOT said crews have been surveying the stretch to help with the design work, and the first phase will go from mile marker 205 (Bottoms Bridge) to mile marker 215.6 (New Kent Courthouse/Providence Forge exit).
Miller said the project is a collaboration with a number of entities, including RVA757 Connects. Martin’s group saw the importance right away.
“Two years ago, our board said we really want to make this our No. 1 priority,” he said, adding CEOs in every market along the way are in favor, as is Governor Glenn Youngkin.
“We’ve gone from zero to 60 mph in six months,” Martin said. “It’s shown us the power of our collaboration.”