Wade WatsonWade Watson
Portsmouth, Va.
ENR 6/27-7/4/16  p. 22-23
Manager prevented culture clash to deliver Virginia’s Elizabeth River Tunnels project, the first all-concrete tunnel designed for deepwater immersion.

Wade Watson oversaw the Skanska USA, Kiewit Construction and Weeks Marine Inc. team for the Elizabeth River Tunnels project, a $2.1-billion, multifaceted P3 collaboration with the Virginia Dept. of Transportation. The project centerpiece—a 4,300-ft-long, multisegmented tube paralleling the existing Midtown Tunnel between Norfolk and Portsmouth—is the first all-concrete tunnel designed for deepwater immersion.

The SKW team used a deepwater facility at a former Baltimore steel mill to fabricate the tunnel’s eleven 16,000-ton reinforced-concrete segments. Dozens of concrete-mix iterations yielded a recipe that satisfied durability mandates for a 120-year design life, with high resistance to cracking. One tunnel portal was fitted with a movable 20-in.-thick, 40,000-lb steel flood-gate system to protect the interior from a 500-year event and a 2-ft sea-level rise. Applying what Watson calls “collaborative talent dynamics fostered by P3 and design-build processes,” the new tunnel opened six months early. The approach also was key to early completion of other project elements, including rehab of three existing tunnels and a one-mile expressway extension.

But the biggest advantage may well have been Watson himself. Dan Norman, construction director for project concessionare ERT, credits him for preventing the culture clash that sometimes arises in joint ventures. “They can have a catastrophic effect on safety,” he says. “Wade led by example, getting full buy-in for safety aspects and procedures from the outset.” Bradley Weidenhammer, VDOT mega­projects engineer, also admires Watson’s ability to navigate the complex challenges that inevitably arise in such intricate construction efforts, saying, “Wade could see all sides of an issue and make decisions that fit with the bigger picture.”

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