The Virginia Dept. of Transportation has OK’d preliminary engineering on its latest public-private initiative—a proposed new tunnel linking Norfolk and Portsmouth—while again seeking proposals on another such project that failed to generate an adequate response the first time.

Moving ahead is the $1.3-billion Downtown Tunnel-Midtown Tunnel-Martin Luther King Freeway Extension. It will create a tunnel under the Elizabeth River parallel to an existing 50-year-old tunnel, which will be renovated.

The two-phase procurement process of Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act required Alexandria, Va.-based Elizabeth River Crossings LLC, a collaboration led by Skanska Infrastructure Development Inc. and the Macquarie Group, to first assess the project’s operational feasibility. With that accepted by VDOT, the team is preparing preliminary design and cost estimates for construction, operation and maintenance. That step is scheduled to be complete possibly in 2011, with possible project completion by 2015.

VDOT also is trying to rekindle private-sector interest in its U.S. Route 460 Improvements Project, a proposed 55-mile, four-lane toll road between Petersburg and Suffolk estimated at $2 billion.

Unsatisfied with responses to its 2006 request for proposals, the agency issued a new solicitation it says reflects a “dramatically” changed landscape: no federal or state funding contribution and significant reductions in agency oversight. VDOT chief engineer Malcolm Kerley says the goal is “to get more competition and more innovation for what we feel is a critically needed project.”

Along with facilitating freight movement to and from Virginia’s ports, the new road is seen as a hurricane evacuation route. Instead of a complete highway with seven interchanges as specified in 2006, VDOT would accept a phased approach and future interchanges as funding becomes available.

The agency also would rely primarily on its concessionaire to ensure quality assurance, quality control and contract compliance.