CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WVEC)-- A gigantic step forward in correcting one of our region's worst traffic nightmare: The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

Thrsday, a regional transportation panel okay-ed a half billion dollars in bonds to get the project rolling.

When the bridge tunnel opened on November 1st, 1957, it connected Hampton and Norfolk. This was the first span to run between two man-made islands in the history of underwater transportation.

The 3.5-mile link was designed to accommodate 10,000 vehicles a day by 1980.

However, by 1978 the actual count surpassed 40,000. Today, the total number of vehicles a day to cross the bridge tunnel is up to at least 88,000 and surges to more than 100,000 during tourist season.

A commute that should be 7 minutes now averages 22 minutes.

Now, thanks to the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission there is hope.

On Thursday, the panel approved $500 million in new bonds to begin work on a four lane HRBT expansion in 2019.

Virginia Beach Senator Frank Wagner is the body's finance committee chairman, and he said it was important to get going with the bonds now while interest rates are low.

"We don't want to do anything at all to slow down the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, least of all, not have the funds available to allow that project to move forward," he said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation says the plan is to build a new 4-lane tube. This would include two free lanes for general purpose, one lane, a full-time Express lane, and one, a shoulder lane that can be converted into an Express lane during peak hours.

"The number one issue that always comes up is the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel," said Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne. "It's the number one choke point, so just from a perspective of the public getting additional capacity, it's very menaingful."

Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe can't wait.

"It will make the region more competitive. Many people think we're not competitive with other regions of the state, primarily because of the traffic congestion. This is a great day for the region," he said.

In total, the bridge-tunnel expansion will cost between $3.3 and $$3.7 billion to build. It will be VDOT's largest construction project ever. The hope is to be finished and have traffic flowing in 2024 or 2025.