Tunnel Work Will Continue

WHEELING – The West Virginia Division of Highways will be keeping an eye on the Wheeling Tunnel over the next few years.

Spokesman Brent Walker said the state has awarded a $450,000 tunnel inspection contract to HDR Engineering Inc. of Weirton. The company is finishing up its first tunnel inspection since a major renovation project ended in September 2010.

“HDR will complete its current inspection soon,” Walker said. “Then, they will inspect the tunnel once every two years over the next four years.”

The firm is now looking at outside areas of the tunnel. This requires no traffic control measures on Interstate 70.

Walker said HDR’s report on its initial inspection should be available sometime in March.

The state restricted traffic to one lane for two weeks last month while inspectors checked ventilation, lighting, tile stability, drainage, road conditions and any other potential problems within the tunnel.

One area being monitored is a recurring problem with the steel grating covering a drainage ditch across the eastbound tube’s entrance.

Division of Highways Bridge Engineer Dave Sada said, “We have had some trouble with cracks in the grating. It’s a different kind of material that requires special welding rods. It is the same kind of grating used on airport runways but here it takes constant pounding from tractor-trailers.”

Sada said heavy truck traffic jars the grating bolts loose and workers have to weld them back in place.

The first replacement grating, which was made of much lighter-gauge material than the original grating, failed shortly after the eastbound tube reopened. Workers replaced the lighter material with the runway-type grating when renovation continued after a lengthy delay.

Another problem spot may be drainage issues inside the tunnel and a leak on the structure’s west side face.

“You can see rusty water leaking down the face,” Sada said. “It is more of a cosmetic problem than a structural one.”

The original renovation project had been priced at $5.7 million for both tubes with plans for work to begin on Jan. 17, 2007 and be completed in May of 2008. A myriad of problems turned the project into a construction fiasco costing $14.4 million and taking three and one-half years to complete.