Damage From Fatal Crash Fixed

WHEELING – In the early hours of May 24, 2005, Pedro Moises Garcia Neri was traveling west on Interstate 70 when it is believed he fell asleep at the wheel of his tractor trailer and struck the outside wall of the westbound tube of the Wheeling Tunnel. He was killed instantly.

The impact of the crash destroyed the corner of the wall and the explosion charred the concrete and tiles inside of the tunnel. It also resulted in the signage above the tunnel to read “eeling Tunnel” for years after.

A little more than five years later, the corner of the tunnel has been completely replaced and the tiles are brand new as part of work being done on the westbound tube. And to better detect accidents like the one that claimed Neri’s life, a state-of-the-art incident detection system has been installed.

The tunnel has always had a surveillance system, said Dustin Neely, who oversees the tunnel project for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, though it was an analog system that required multiple television screens. The new system feeds directly into a computer monitor, providing 12 different views throughout the tunnel. However, providing a live look into the tunnel isn’t the only thing the system does.

The video captured from the tunnel is run through a computer system that creates a digital grid. The grid is programmed to recognize a number of hazards that could occur within the tunnel, Neely said.

This includes gauging the speed of a vehicle, which would allow the system to tell when a vehicle has come to a complete stop.

It is also programmed to detect debris or pedestrians, as the system is programmed to recognize anything smaller than the size of an average vehicle. It also detects smoke or fire inside of the tunnel.

The system was installed during the closure of the eastbound tube, though it was removed and replaced during the westbound closure.

“We had to take portions of it down as to not damage them,” Neely said.

The cameras are monitored around the clock in the control room at the tunnel, where the person on duty also has access to a brand new carbon dioxide detection system. Neely said the system is similar to those used in coal mines in Western Pennsylvania, reading the amount of CO2 inside of the tunnel and triggering fans above the tubes in the event that levels rise above what the system determines to be dangerous.

In addition to the new technology in the tunnel, crews have been finishing up the replacement of tile as well as installing new drains and plugging leaks. Neely said the biggest issue crews faced was at the west end of the westbound tube, where water dripped constantly, causing dangerous icicles to form during the winter months.

“We patched some areas where we saw the leaks, and that coupled with the new drainage system should stop that problem,” he said. He added heavy rains during the past week provided a test for the drainage system.

“There were no problems, and we don’t expect for there to be any moving forward,” he said.

Neely said in addition to finishing the tile work, crews still need to pave the road, put rails back in place on the inside lanes, clean the drainage system and paint the outside walls, which could begin as early as next week on the west end before moving to the east side.

He said crews are on schedule for the Oct. 31 completion date.