Tunnel In ‘Fair’ Condition

WHEELING – The aging Wheeling Tunnel appears to be holding up well since a $14.4 million, three-year renovation project was completed in September 2010.

West Virginia Division of Highways District 6 Bridge Engineer Dave Sada said an inspection of the tubes earlier this year revealed no major problems. HDR Engineering of Weirton conducted the inspection as part of a $450,000 contract with the state to inspect the tunnel three times during a four-year period.

“The tunnel is in fair condition,” Sada said. “We have a few isolated areas of cracked tiles at random locations but they are not coming off.”

He said the ventilation system is in working order and some water seepage coming through the tunnel ceiling appears to be nothing to worry about.

“I did notice water is coming out of the hillside and leaking through a retaining wall on the west end. We are not planning to do anything about it at this time, but we will monitor it and do repair work necessary if the problem gets worse,” he said. “The tunnel should be OK for a while.”

According to Sada, the drainage issues are not related to the 22 clogged drains left in the tunnel’s ceiling during the renovation work. At that time, engineers decided it would not be cost effective to clear them. One recurring issue continues with bolts cracking under the pressure of traffic in the steel grating covering a drainage ditch at the entrance of the eastbound tube.

“We have had some trouble with cracks in the grating,” Sada said. “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.”

He said heavy truck traffic jars the grating bolts loose and workers have to weld them back in place. The first replacement grating installed during the original renovation was made of much lighter-gauge material than the original grating. It failed shortly after the eastbound tube reopened. Workers replaced the lighter material with the runway-type grating when renovation continued.

The inspection by HDR included a check of ventilation, lighting, tile stability, drainage, road conditions and any other potential problems within the tunnel, including the grating.

Opened to traffic on Dec. 12, 1966, the tunnel remained untouched until the first renovation project began on Jan. 17, 2007. The project came with an initial price tag of $5.7 million for both tubes and a projected completion date of May 2008.

A myriad of problems turned the project into a construction fiasco costing $14.4 million and taking three and one-half years to finish. To date, no parties have been held responsible for the cost overruns or delays.