West Virginia Division of Highways Officials Offer No Plan to Address Wheeling Tunnel Issues

WVDOH offers no plans to address Wheeling Tunnel’s Issues

Photo by Scott McCloskey Motorists travel east into the Wheeling Tunnel this week. A patch of missing tiles can be seen on the ceiling from the tunnel’s entrance.

WHEELING — About 12 years ago, local residents received the state’s assurance that a much-anticipated project to renovate and repair the Wheeling Tunnel would have the Interstate 70 stretch through Wheeling Hill ready for another half-century of service.

Today, the tunnel has numerous missing tiles, ongoing water issues, and potholes that have led to tire damage for motorists.

The West Virginia Division of Highways said it is aware of the problems, but does not plan to address them anytime soon.

The original renovation work, started in 2007, was supposed to take six months and cost several million dollars. In the end, it took three years and cost more than $14.4 million.

The repair work done during the renovation by the Velotta Co. doesn’t seem to be holding up well, either. Missing tile from the tunnel’s lining can be seen driving through the quarter-mile east and westbound tubes, with piles of broken tile found outside the tunnel’s walls behind the guardrail.

This past winter, a large icicle formed along the tunnel’s eastbound entrance, jutting out toward the right-hand traffic lane where cars merge into the tunnel from downtown Wheeling. The tunnel has been temporarily shut down a few times this year to repair potholes after vehicles started experiencing tire damage. And just recently, water has been seen leaking from the roof at the eastbound entrance.

Lighting in the tunnel also continues to be an issue for many area residents.

HDR Engineering of Weirton recently completed its bi-annual safety inspection of the tunnel for the West Virginia Division of Highways. State highways officials have not released the results of that inspection.

Past inspections have included checks on a variety of issues, including ventilation, lighting, tile stability, drainage, road conditions and any other potential problems within the tunnel, along with the grating.

While a routine inspection by HDR in 2013 revealed no major problems, the tunnel was described as being in “fair” condition, according to state highways officials at that time — just three years after the major rehabilitation project was completed. At that time, some tile were described as being cracked, but not coming off.

Now, many tiles have fallen off.

When asked if any issues concerning the Wheeling Tunnel would be addressed during the upcoming I-70 bridges project projected to start this fall, current DOH District 6 Engineer David Brabham said the tunnel is “not part of the the I-70 rehab project.”

Brabham said they are “aware of the issues … however there are no projects planned for the tunnel at the moment.”

Concerns from area residents continues to grow. Former Belmont County commissioner Mark Thomas this past week posted on Twitter, “I’ve been through dozens of US interstates’ tunnels in my life: I have never seen any continuing and worse tunnel than I-70 EB through Wheeling. What is that crater and waterfall going to be named? It’s like the locusts; it keeps coming back.”

Opened to traffic 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 sides and a projected completion date of May 2008, which was stretched to September of 2010 following a number of problems and delays.

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