HRBT tunnel boring machine’s name will be ‘Mary’
Virginia Beach school's winning entry honors 'Hidden Figures' scientist
Chosen from several entries submitted by Hampton Roads area middle school students, the massive underwater tunnel boring machine (TBM) that arrives later this year to dig new tunnels for the $3.8 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project will be named Mary, in honor of Mary Winston Jackson, a NASA scientist depicted in “Hidden Figures.”
St. Gregory the Great Catholic School students entered the name in a contest held by the Virginia Department of Transportation to name the tunnel boring machine, which is set to arrive this fall. Project officials announced the name Wednesday morning. The winning group of students from the Virginia Beach school created a video explaining why the machine should bear Jackson’s name. “We wanted to pick a female scientist that had a relationship with our area,” said one student, while another said he was “just extremely surprised we won.”
Jackson, who was born in 1921 in Hampton, was a mathematician and engineer who was hired to work at NASA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1951 as a human “computer.” After two years, Jackson was hired to work for an engineer in Langley’s Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. In 1958, she became NASA’s first Black female engineer, and she retired in 1985. She died in 2005 at the age of 83. Jackson was played by actress/singer Janelle Monáe in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures,” which also includes portrayals of her colleagues Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan.
The TBM is being built in Germany under specifications for the Bridge-Tunnel; it will be brought in pieces to the South Island this fall. When assembled, it will be about 46 feet in diameter and 350 feet long — roughly the height of a three-story building and the length of a football field. According to VDOT and the Hampton Roads Connection Partners (HRCP), the joint venture responsible for design and construction work on the HRBT expansion, digging will begin in early 2022 and conclude in 2024. The entire project, which is expected to be completed in 2025, will increase tunnel and interstate capacity along 9.9 miles of Interstate 64 between Hampton and Norfolk, digging two new two-lane tunnels and building four new lanes across the water, as well as adding lanes on connecting roads.
HRCP is a joint venture led by New York-based Dragados USA Inc. and includes Vinci Construction, Flatiron Construction Corp. and Vinci subsidiary Dodin Campenon Bernard.
The name Mary will be prominently displayed on the TBM during the project, said José Martin Alos, HRCP’s project executive, who noted it’s considered good luck to name the tunnel boring machine before work starts. The HRBT expansion is only the fourth project in the United States involving a TBM.
Here’s the name announcement video: