WHEELING - Traffic flowed slowly but steadily Monday morning as crews worked to close the westbound tube of the Wheeling Tunnel in preparation for a nine-month repair job.
Crews began working at about 7:30 a.m., changing signs and placing barrels at the entrances to Interstate 70 westbound. By 8:30 a.m., motorists were forced to make frequent stops along I-70 as two large bucket trucks carrying signage traveled along the right side of the highway posting orange detour warnings.
Many motorists were observed taking the Oglebay exit to bypass the work, which caused about a five-minute wait. Wheeling Police Department cruisers were stationed at various points along the way, alerting motorists to the stoppages and directing traffic as needed.
(Photos by Scott McCloskey)
West Virginia Division of Highways crews post “closed” banners across signs above Interstate 70 leading to the westbound side of the Wheeling Tunnel Monday morning.
The first day of traffic diversion away from the Wheeling Tunnel in the westbound lane of Interstate 70 provides a preview of long lines to come until October.
"Everything went well, and so far traffic is moving smoothly and freely," said police Lt. Martin Kimball.
The 16th Street exit from I-70 was clear during the preparation Monday morning, as was the rest of the detour through downtown Wheeling. Traffic flow returned to normal by 9 a.m. on I-70 as crews from Ahern and Associates of South Charleston began placing large concrete barriers leading into the tunnel. According to West Virginia Division of Highways spokesman Brent Walker, no problems were reported from the crews. He also said the repair work should start soon.
"We're in and everything is a go," he said. "The choice of when to begin work will be left up to them (Ahern), but it should be very soon."
HEADING WEST WHILE STAYING OUT OF TUNNEL
- Motorists are urged to use Interstate 470 west unless traveling to downtown Wheeling or Wheeling Island.
- Motorists using Interstate 70 west to approach downtown or the Island will exit at W.Va. 2 south and travel to 16th Street.
The detour travels west on 16th Street to Market Street, where drivers turn north and head back to I-70.
Motorists can re-enter I-70 west and cross the Fort Henry Bridge to reach Wheeling Island or continue west into Ohio.
The detours are nothing new to Ohio Valley motorists, who have been forced to deal with similar work in the past. Dustin Neely, who oversees the tunnel project for the Division Transportation, said last week that the detours are the same as they were last year when the westbound tube was closed for night work.
Kimball said Wheeling police are prepared for the extra traffic through downtown.
"We anticipate no problems, but we will monitor traffic and any problems will be addressed," he said.
The closing of the tunnel is the next step in an effort to repair the westbound tube, including replacing and repairing tiles and doing electrical work. The job was awarded to Ahern and Associates after the firm placed a $6,764,850 bid in June.
Work on the eastbound tube was completed in October. Kimball said that the experience of dealing with the tunnel closures in the past makes dealing with this round of work easier for the police.
"We really don't expect many problems this time like we did when the eastbound tube was closed," he said. "It doesn't have the same effect as the eastbound tube being closed."