Jeffrey Caldwell 804-786-2715


Aug. 6, 2009

Initial Review Panel Meeting Set for Aug. 10

RICHMOND — As part of the ongoing response to the events that led to the July 2 closure of the Interstate 64 West Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) due to the rupture of a 52-year-old cast-iron fire main, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has appointed an 11-member panel to review operations and procedures for good management of the tunnel.

The panel will review and provide recommendations to VDOT Commissioner David S. Ekern regarding existing policies and procedures relating to tunnel operations, technology and management. The initial meeting of the panel will be held Aug. 10 at 8:30 a.m. in Room 106 of the Hampton Convention Center.

The panel comprises experts from Hampton Roads and around the nation with experience in emergency preparedness and response, tunnel maintenance and public works management.
  • Philip J. Tarnoff (chair), Director, Center for Integrated Transportation Systems Management, University of Maryland

  • Steven Mondul, Deputy Assistant to the Governor, Commonwealth Preparedness
  • Wallace Twigg , Regional V Director, Virginia Department of Emergency Management
  • Lt. Ernest Poole, Jr., Bureau of Field Operations, Division V, Virginia State Police
  • John M. Keifer, Director, Department of Public Works, City of Norfolk
  • Lynn Allsbrook, Traffic Operations Manager, City of Hampton
  • Steve Ernst, Senior Engineer for Safety and Security, Federal Highway Administration
  • Jeff Holland, Executive Director, Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel
  • Steve Napolitano, General Manager, Port Authority Bus Terminal and Lincoln Tunnel, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
  • Don Smith, Tunnel Maintenance Operations Manager, Maryland Transportation Authority
  • Connie Sorrell, Chief of System Operations, Virginia Department of Transportation

“We have pledged to conduct a full review of the July 2 incident and to look beyond the incident to ensure that we are providing the safest possible service,” said Ekern. “This panel, made up of industry experts, will help us understand and determine what steps VDOT can put into place to better respond to incidents of this nature in the future.”

This meeting is open to the public, although portions of panel discussions involving details of tunnel infrastructure may be closed to the public for security reasons.

The meeting will include a tour of the tunnel facility for panel members only (due to access to secure areas) and will include background briefings on tunnel operations and procedures for panel members.

A fire main break 2,800 feet inside the western end of the tunnel on July 2 caused flooding which eventually led to more than eight hours of traffic delays in the area.

The water pipe burst while maintenance crews were responding to several tunnel emergencies caused by a strong storm that struck the area around 9 p.m. July 1.

Tunnel maintenance teams were dispatched to address downed power lines that closed the Route 17 James River Bridge, power outages at the I-664 Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel and at the HRBT, and water pumps running unexpectedly at the HRBT.

VDOT closed the road for more than eight hours July 2 while crews addressed the flooding and began pumping water from the roadway.

Over the next week, overnight lane closures were used to pump out the water beneath the roadway and to diagnose the cause of the water flow.

At no time was public safety threatened by the rising water underground. The tunnel itself was never breached or in danger due to this fire main break. Investigations to date have determined that the water main break was coincidental to the weather events of that evening, but was not caused by the storm.

To view a presentation given during the July 10 public briefing following the incident, click

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Page last modified: Oct. 17, 2012