Q: When is the best time to drive through the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT) on I-64?
This is not only a question that gets asked a lot, but it is also a very important one. Unfortunately, the answer is not easy. The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT) is the stretch of interstate (I-64) that connects the south side of Hampton Roads (Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, etc..) to the north side of Hampton Roads (Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg, etc..)
This part of the interstate bottlenecks down to from 8 lanes to 4 lanes (2 in each direction) and passes through a tunnel. Getting through this tunnel and reaching your destination on the other side can be quite tricky because you never quite know when traffic or complications will arise. Believe me, you DO NOT want to get stuck in traffic on the HRBT. It can turn a short trip into a long one and a long trip into an agonizingly long one. Plan accordingly.
Here are some considerations:
- Direction you are heading
The direction in which you are heading plays a big role in whether you will hit traffic. For example going West (which is actually north) through the tunnel on a Sunday afternoon during the summer is DEFINITELY a bad idea. All of the vacationers will have checked out of their hotels and will be attempting to drive home at that time. When you have that many cars attempting to make an exodus from Virginia Beach and driving through a tunnel to head north, it is a recipe for disaster. However, driving east (actually south) on a Sunday afternoon would probably not be a problem at all.
- Time of Day
Aside from the discussion mentioned above regrading weekend travel, many of the residents on Hampton Roads have to pass through the tunnel on a daily basis Monday through Friday to get to/from work. Trying to pass through through the tunnel in the morning (6am-9am) or in late afternoon (4pm-6pm) is usually a bad idea. Sometimes you get lucky. But more often that not, you get in gridlock.
As previously mentioned, the HRBT is a tunnel.. but it is also a long bridge as well. Therefore it requires a lot of maintenance. Knowing when the HRBT is under construction is a MUST. The VDOT (Virginia Dept of Transportation) attempts to do their best at performing construction at non-peak hours (usually in the middle of the night), but sometimes the construction zone remains in place and causes problems for even the smallest daily commutes.
All bets are off during major holidays or events. The same rules and considerations apply as mentioned above, but if you get caught in traffic, usually the results are much worse.
These are just a few of the concerns one faces when trying to get to or from the southside of Hampton Roads via the HRBT.
If we had to give advice, I would say that the best time to ARRIVE in Virginia Beach would be Monday-Thursday and plan on coming through the HRBT when the local residents are not commuting to or from work. Fridays are never a good idea to travel to Virginia Beach and Saturdays could be hit or miss.
When you are leaving Virginia Beach, the best time to leave would probably be AFTER the weekend. It's always better to travel on a Monday or Tuesday if possible. If you have no choice and your hotel checkout date is on Sunday you are taking a real risk. Either try to get through the HRBT very early (before 9am) or hang around Virginia Beach a little longer and wait to leave later int he day (after 6pm).
PLANNING AND RESOURCES:
Obviously planning can be done in advance when planning your entire vacation. If you have already made your plans and didn't consider traffic complications, there are still some resources you can use.
- Traffic Cams
HamptonRoads.com supplies traffic cams, so you can see how bad traffic might be at the HRBT. I use it EVERY time I plan on going through the tunnel. It can be a lifesaver. (CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE TRAFFIC CAMS)
- Alternate Routes
The HRBT may be the only direct route but there are others. The other routes might add 10, 20 or 30 more miles to your trip but I would much rather travel a few more miles than to sit in hot traffic for possibly hours. Depending on where you are traveling, you could use the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to head up the Eastern Shore towards Delaware and New Jersey or you could take I-664 through Chesapeake and Suffolk and try to get around the HRBT.
With a little bit of luck and some prior planning, hopefully your travels to or from Virginia Beach are met with very little complications and very little traffic. We hope this information helps you avoid some traffic pitfalls in your trip and we hope that your trip is that much more fun because of it.
Whatever the case, drive safely and... Have a Great Day at the Beach!