Michelle Earl 276-696-3283
July 28, 2014
Interstate 77 tunnel fire: recap of response, repairs
BRISTOL— Periodic lane closures are being scheduled for the coming weeks as repairs continue following the Friday afternoon tractor-trailer fire inside I-77 East River Mountain Tunnel.
Shortly after 3 p.m. Friday (July 25) authorities responded to a tractor-trailer on fire in the northbound side of the East River Mountain Tunnel on Interstate 77 just inside West Virginia.
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and emergency personnel from Virginia and West Virginia worked simultaneously to extinguish the fire and remove traffic from the north and southbound lanes of the tunnel.
Once the fire was extinguished and motorists where safely removed, the effort of rerouting traffic and closing Interstate 81 at Exit 72 so no additional traffic could enter I-77 north began.
After securing the site, focus shifted to repairs and reopening I-77 safely and efficiently.
“With an incident of this magnitude, it was not simply a question of extinguishing and removing the burned vehicle,” Mike Russell, P.E., VDOT Bristol District Administrator, said. “There were structural evaluations to be made, damaged material to be removed, and repairs to pavement, lighting and other issues to be remedied before we could safely reopen the route.”
“The other major coordination effort involved communicating the situation with neighboring states in hopes they’d help get the word out to motorists. We are thankful for the patience motorists showed and are also thankful to those motorists who heeded warnings and rerouted or postponed their travels.”
Once the structure was determined to be sound, southbound traffic was reopened and work began to remove and replace the damaged asphalt, repair lighting and fiber optics.
About 36 tons of asphalt were repaired during the early morning hours Saturday. Temporary lighting was also added inside the tunnel to ensure safety of the public prior to reopening the right lane around 9 a.m. Saturday.
Approximately 1,600 feet of lighting along the tunnel walls was damaged in fire.
“Crews were able to put enough lighting back together to ensure sufficient safety until permanent repairs are made in the coming weeks,” Ken King, P.E. VDOT Regional Operations Manager, said.
“Knowing how important the I-77 corridor is to motorists - especially during the peak holiday travel season - we were pleased to have the tunnel reopened within almost 24 hours. VDOT is extremely grateful to each emergency response team that was present and realizes cooperation between the two states was a key component to a safe and timely response.”
This week, motorists can expect periodic delays Monday through Thursday nights while work is underway to clean a significant accumulation of soot from the tunnel. In the coming weeks, drivers should be alert to nighttime and periodic daytime lane closures while lighting repairs continue.
The speed limit through the tunnel has been restricted to 45 mph and will remain 45 mph until repairs are complete.
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