Downtown Tunnel closure causes weekend backups

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – The scheduled eastbound closure of the Downtown Tunnel caused traffic delays on Saturday.

At one point, eastbound traffic at the Midtown Tunnel was backed up three miles and the High Rise Bridge was experiencing a six mile delay, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

A Spokesperson for Elizabeth River Crossings, Leila Rice,  told 10 On Your Side Monday, that the first weekend for a closure is usually a time to see how motorists react. Now that they know, they are ready to make adjustments.

Rice said they will add portable message signs to help direct traffic. They hope is to keep Virginia Beach-bound traffic on the interstate. They are also working with Portsmouth police to close two exit ramps, likely Crawford and Court streets, to keep traffic on Effingham St. and ease congestion.

Rice said  ERC did not see any big increase in the number of vehicles trying to cross on Saturday, or any accidents. The issue was getting people through the city.

Many drivers said they were caught off guard as they tried to head east through the tunnel. They said they didn’t remember the closure was happening. All were forced to find an alternate route by way of the Jordan Bridge, the Midtown Tunnel, or the High Rise Bridge.

Portsmouth resident Michael Old said he was lucky to be going in the opposite direction of the traffic on Saturday. He was headed back to Portsmouth from Norfolk.

“You really got to have a purpose to go over there,” Old said of traveling outside Portsmouth during the closures.

However, many still want to make their way to downtown Portsmouth on the weekend, whether it’s to dine out or go to the concerts at nTelos Wireless Pavilion.

The Bier Garden’s General Manager, Russell Wetherbee, said concert business still kept people coming in on Saturday. However, he noticed a big difference between business on Sunday as compared to other weekends.

“I’m not pleased about it,” Wetherbee explained. “But you have to stay optimistic.”

Wetherbee said restaurant staff try to remind customers about the closure and detours.

Elizabeth River Tunnels will close the eastbound tube of the Downtown Tunnel for the next four weekends. A spokesperson said the tunnel will stay open for Labor Day weekend.

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