As the saying goes, “don’t believe everything you read.” Unless, that is, you’re planning to try to
sneak through the westbound Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel near Norfolk, VA.
A new law in the
state, which goes into effect on July 1, raises the fine from $85 to $500 and
adds three points to the licenses of truckers who ignore height restrictions on
This isn’t a
situation where authorities are pumping up the fines just to keep trucks out of
the area. According to Tyrone Brown, acting facility manager for the Hampton
Roads Bridge-Tunnel, trucks that try to use the westbound tunnel literally will
not be able to fit.
“This is a high-traffic, high volume area – we have a naval
base, several military installations and three large ports in this area,” Brown
history and layout are the reasons for the truck-height problem. Brown said the
two submerged tunnels – eastbound and westbound – were constructed about 15
years apart from each other, and the first was built to standards that simply
are not tall enough to handle modern truck designs.
“The first tunnel
facility was built in 1957, and during that time, truck height didn’t exceed
what they do today,” Brown said. “That tunnel was built to accommodate trucks
no taller than 12 feet 6 inches tall. That’s how tall that tunnel is; that’s
the roofline of the tunnel.”
Signage on the
eastbound bridge-tunnel helps to alert truckers to the situation, Brown said.
you were coming from the New York area down to Virginia Beach. You would come
through our eastbound tunnel first,” Brown said. “On the return trip is the
westbound tunnel, which is the smaller tunnel. So we have signage up that says
‘you won’t be able to return this way if you’re over this height.’ ”
Brown said the
approach to the westbound tunnel gives truckers plenty of warning about the
lower heights, also. Signs have been placed on nearby Interstates 564 and 64,
which merge to form I-64 – the roadway the bridge-tunnel is on. If a truck does
make it onto I-64, a series of four over-height sensors – one about 1 3/4 miles
away from the tunnel entrance, one at an inspection station three-quarters of a
mile away, another at about a quarter of a mile away, and a fourth close to the
tunnel’s mouth – will alert a truck over 12 feet 6 inches tall if it attempts
The reason for the
increased fine, he said, isn’t a moneymaking scheme. Trucks are releasing the
air in their suspension to lower their overall height to try to sneak past the
said, many trucks trip the sensors at stations three and four, after their
suspensions re-inflate. By this point, they have already missed the provided turnaround
point, and traffic has to be stopped to get the truck out.
Brown said trucks
account for 92 percent of all stoppages on the bridge-tunnel. He estimates that
trucks sneak past the first two sensors approximately 18 times a day, each of
which takes about five minutes to stop traffic in both directions, clear an
area for the truck to exit and get it moving in the opposite direction.
stoppage basically equates to about a mile-and-a-half backup, so it’s become a
really big issue,” Brown said.
The tunnel authority
has started a notification program that includes handing out flyers to
truck drivers and contacting trucking companies to let them know of the fine
increase. The program also outlines how to use the alternate route, the Monitor-Merrimac
Memorial Bridge-Tunnel – built to a height of 16 feet in 1992 – about 25 miles
out of the way.
“Even though we’re talking about a 25-mile detour, that
could take you anywhere from an hour to two and a half hours,” Brown said.
This extra drive, Brown said, is what’s causing the truckers
to take the chance on the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
“What the drivers are asking themselves is, ‘Do I want to
take the chance and do that six miles and see if I can beat the over-height, or
do I just want to take 25 miles and go all the way around?’ ” Brown said. “That
decision is being made in the cab of the truck.”
– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer