Tunnel inspection scheduled

WHEELING – The Wheeling Tunnel will get its first major inspection since an issue-laden renovation projected ended more than two years ago.

Dan Sikora, acting District 6 engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways, said the tunnel will remain open but lane restrictions will be in place while the consulting firm HDR Engineering inspects the Interstate 70 portals.

“As a result of the inspections, lane restrictions will be imposed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday and Tuesday on the eastbound structure,” he said. “Restrictions on the westbound tube will be from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (Dec. 12, 13 and 14).”

Sikora said the Market Street entrance ramp to I-70 will be closed during the eastbound tube inspection.

“Detours will be marked for both lane restrictions, and motorists should allow extra travel time and consider using Interstate 470,” he added. “Inclement weather could change the project schedule.”

District Six Bridge Engineer Dave Sada said the tunnel has undergone lesser inspections each year since it reopened to the public in September 2010.

“We check it every year like we do the bridges, but this is the first major inspection since the renovation,” he said.

Sada said inspectors will be looking at ventilation, lighting, tile stability, drainage, roadway conditions and any other potential problems. He said a recurring problem with the steel grating covering a drainage ditch across the entrance of the eastbound tube continues to be a concern.

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

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

The first replacement grating – 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.

Sada said workmen have spotted some minor drainage issues inside the tunnel and a leak on the west side face of the structure.

“You can see rusty water leaking down the face,” he 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 to be completed in May 2008. Dozens of problems turned the project into a construction fiasco costing $14.4 million and taking three and one-half years to complete.