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In a male-dominated industry, women help lead massive HRBT expansion project

For Women's History Month, 13News Now looked into how many women are helping lead the expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

NORFOLK, Va. — It’s supposed to transform how we travel in Hampton Roads. 

The expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel is a nearly $4 billion dollar investment to ease traffic between the Southside and the Peninsula.

It's a project that not only takes a considerable amount of time but an equally large number of people.

“Whether we’re talking about a man or woman, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Isabel Lillard with Hampton Roads Connector Partners.

In a male-dominated industry, many women are helping lead the expansion of the HRBT, the largest construction project in Virginia’s history.

“When you think of construction, you think of boots on the ground. Getting muddy every day, physical labor, but there is a lot more to it than that," said Michelle Martin, a project manager and VDOT-HRBT consultant.

Martin, a Tidewater native, grew up around the world of construction and attended Virginia Tech to focus on structural engineering.

But all her life, she’s noticed a common theme for herself and other women in the industry.

“In my classes, there were about three to four women for every 50 people," Martin said. 

According to HRBT data, the staff for the expansion project is made up of roughly 13% women, across all levels from the construction's boots on the ground to the project's leadership, which is roughly double the project's goal. 

Lillard is also one of those leaders.

“I was quite surprised, we had an event for women in construction last week, and I looked around and realized there are so many women on this project," Lillard said. 

According to research from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA, women made up less than 10% of the construction industry as recently as 2010.

But that’s a narrative women like Martin and Lillard want to change. 

“I would like to continue to see that more and more," Lillard said. 

The HRBT expansion is set to finish by November of 2025.

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