Jeffrey Caldwell 804-786-2715

Dec. 16, 2009

VDOT issues action plan to address recommendations

RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced today its final action plan in response to recommendations made by the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) Independent Review Panel to improve tunnel maintenance and operational policies and procedures.

VDOT Commissioner David S. Ekern convened the panel of industry experts to review existing tunnel operations, technology and management in response to the eight-hour closure of the HRBT due to flooding caused by a water main break July 2. 

The panel was charged to provide VDOT with recommendations for long-term improvements to incident response and policy changes that could limit the risk of a similar incident occurring in the future.

The panel’s recommended that VDOT:

  • Conduct a risk assessment to identify the critical system failures that would result in closure of the facility or risk to the safety of the facility users

  • Evaluate the staffing patterns and expertise

  • Enhance facility management plans and procedures for tunnel facilities

  • Enhance traveler information dissemination during incidents to reduce traveler delay

  • Enhance emergency plan coordination with local and first responders

  • Implement periodic reviews of security-related plans and policies

VDOT’s 20-point action plan to implement these recommendations over the next three years and to improve overall maintenance and operations in the tunnels was simultaneously issued. It includes:

  • Identifying $70.5 million in anticipated investments to tunnel facilities for infrastructure upgrades, safety improvements and monitoring technology such as the flooding sensors and pump flow sensors recently installed at the HRBT

  • Shifting resources and reorganizing staffing to better support tunnels by:

    • Mandating inspections of critical systems during every shift
    • Enhancing training for front-line staff to improve key system knowledge
    • Evaluating maintenance and emergency response staffing needs and making appropriate adjustments

  • Improving coordination with other emergency response entities through regular meetings and scheduled drills

“We pledged to conduct a full and open review of the July 2 tunnel closure and to look beyond the incident to ensure that we are providing the safest possible service,” said Ekern. “This panel’s recommendations are derived from national best practices and were developed during meeting open to the public and media. They have helped us determine what short- and long-term steps VDOT should put into place to better respond to incidents of this nature and this action plan outlines how we will accomplish these goals.”

Many of the items recommended in the panel’s report have already been completed by VDOT or are scheduled for completion in the near future as the agency continues to upgrade the aging tunnels.

On July 2, a 52-year-old cast-iron fire main pipe encased in concrete beneath the Interstate 64 West Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel ruptured. Approximately 1 million gallons of water from the fire suppression system filled the lower duct, resulting in the complete closure of the westbound tunnel for more than eight hours.

VDOT crews restored travel to the tunnel the same day and repaired the damages to the facility within a week of the event. 

The agency has also installed water detection systems in the lower ducts and took appropriate actions regarding staffing, policy and procedural changes to ensure motorists safety while it completed a full review of the incident.

VDOT conducted its own investigation into the causes of the incident, and commissioned the review panel to review policies, procedures and practices that could prevent similar future inconveniences to travelers.



Information in VDOT news releases was accurate at the time the release was published. For the most current information about projects or programs, please visit the project or program Web pages. You may find those by searching by keyword in the search Virginia DOT box above.

Page last modified: Oct. 17, 2012