New tunnel building technique used for Brightline prevents major road closure

State Road 528 at U.S. Highway 1 in Brevard County is shutting down at 10 p.m. Tuesday night. It will reopen with one lane going in each direction as a major part of construction for the Brightline Railway project. 

"This excites me. This kind of operation is new, it’s innovative,"  said Matt Carroll, Brightline’s assistant project manager.

Right now, workers are building a tunnel for Brightline under the 528 while cars are still driving on the roadway. 

"This is the first time that this type of operation has been done in North America," Carroll said.  The railway that will soon connect West Palm Beach to Orlando has to get from one side of S.R. 528 to the other to do that. 

Shutting down the main roadway from Orlando to Brevard County for days at a time is not an option. So, they called in a contractor out of Italy to do what’s called "box jacking."

"What it allows us to do is minimize impacts to the traveling public," Carroll said.   

Over the last month, the contractor built three gigantic concrete tunnels right next to where they are being installed. That’s had no effect on traffic. With the help of a complex jack system, large pipes and spacers, one is now under the 528, and the second one is now seamlessly connected to the south end of it while a third will be seamlessly connected to that and pushed into place. 

"What they do is they push the spacers and the pipes to push the tunnel north. They’ll then drop a spacer in and push against the next one," Carrol said. "The top of this tunnel has a smooth finish of concrete. We’ll then apply a layer of grease. We’ll then install anti-drag plates which allow that tunnel to slide under."

At full speed, the jacks push the tunnels three feet an hour. Brightline shared a timeline of the first tunnel being pushed under S.R. 528. 

While that sounds slow, it's 15 days total of changes in traffic patterns, a few overnight shutdowns, but for the most part, closures in one direction.  All lanes of S.R. 528 affected by this project are set to reopen completely on March 30.

Brightline said the construction on a rail system connecting West Palm to Orlando should be done by the end of 2022. The company is hoping to have its safety inspection done in late 2022 before opening to the public right before the end of that year or at the beginning of 2023.

Stay tuned to FOX 35 News for any other traffic closures related to this and all other major road projects.