The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) in the US has signed a deal that will allow preliminary work to begin on the estimated $2.1bn new tunnel to connect the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

The interim agreement has been signed with private firm Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) who will develop and/or operate the Downtown Tunnel/Midtown Tunnel/Martin Luther King (MLK) Extension project.

The deal involves building a two-lane tunnel under the Elizabeth River that will parallel the existing midtown tunnel.

The work also includes extension of the MLK Freeway between Interstate 264 and London Boulevard and improvements to the existing Midtown and Downtown tunnels.

The interim agreement will be implemented in two phases with the first phase requiring ERC to study the project’s feasibility and the second phase requiring it to finish preliminary engineering work and cost estimates.