Downtown Tunnel celebrates 70 years in service

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Posted at 2:09 PM, May 23, 2022

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - The original Downtown Tunnel turns 70 years old.

The tunnel opened on May 23, 1952. Today, this is the westbound tube of the Downtown Tunnel.

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It was originally named the “Norfolk-Portsmouth Bridge-Tunnel” or the “First Tunnel,” as it was the first underwater tunnel in Virginia and only the 11th in the country.

The second tube, now the eastbound tube, opened on March 4, 1987. Both tunnels were built by Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation.

Downtown Tunnel Facts

  • The tunnel carries Interstate 264 and links together Norfolk and Portsmouth.
  • The average daily tunnel traffic in 1953 was 12,900 vehicles.
  • The average daily tunnel traffic in 2021 was 72,803 vehicles.
  • The westbound tube is 3,350 feet in length and the eastbound tube is 3,813 feet in length.
  • The tunnel has a connecting drawbridge, the Berkley Bridge, which extends over the Elizabeth River Eastern Branch and connects I-264 and I-464 on the Norfolk side of the tunnel.
  • When the Downtown Tunnel opened in 1952 the toll was $.20 per axle plus $.05 per passenger for personal vehicles. When tolls were eliminated on August 1, 1986, the toll amount was $.25 flat per vehicle and an additional $.10 per axle for trucks.
  • No pedestrians or bicyclists are allowed to travel through the tunnel.