The fallen crane is seen Photo: Norfolk above the water line in Willoughby Bay. Fire & Rescue/Facebook

Crane Falls into Water at Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel

There was some unexpected excitement Tuesday morning for the large-scale bridge-tunnel expansion project underway in Hampton Roads.

A construction crane fell into the water in Norfolk’s Willoughby Bay before 8 a.m., near the eastbound lanes of I-64 at the Willoughby Bay Bridge. According to Stephen Meyers, spokesman for Hampton Roads Connector Partners, an operator was moving the crane to reposition it on a barge. But the crane was unable to stop and the crane “walked-off” the barge into the water.

Thankfully the crane operator was able to exit the machinery before it entered the water. With a water temperature hovering around 41 degrees, an operator would not have had much time before losing control of their muscles.

Meyers says weather doesn’t appear to be a factor, with no notably high winds to speak of. There will be an investigation to determine what did cause the incident. In addition to the crane operator escaping without injury, there was no damage to the highway, the construction site or other equipment.

But the crane itself remained in the water, and leaders were working to make an “equipment recovery plan” to retrieve it. The Coast Guard was notified, and the area where the crane fell in was already restricted to marine traffic due to construction.

The $3.8 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) Expansion Project has been underway since October 2020, and is expected to be completed in 2025. The massive project will increase tunnel and interstate capacity along 9.9 miles of I-64 between Hampton and Norfolk, allowing better access to the Port of Virginia and the world’s largest naval base. It is the largest infrastructure project in Virginia history, and among the large-scale logistics, there is a 400-foot-long, 4,000-ton tunnel boring machine with a 46-foot diameter cutting tool that excavates soil under the James River, while concrete liners are set in place.

-Meg Walburn Viviano