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Ready or Not, Tunnel to Open

October 27, 2007
By FRED CONNORS
WHEELING — The Wheeling Tunnel’s eastbound tube will open soon to traffic — no matter whether renovation work there is completed.

Also, when work resumes next spring, a new contractor may be doing it.

Todd Rumbaugh, the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s director of contract administration, on Friday confirmed the eastbound tube will be open “as soon as possible” and the state will close out its contract with the Velotta Co. and advertise for new bids to finish the renovation project.

Rumbaugh said, “We are trying to get it open as soon as possible, but our first concern is safety of the public.”

He said a delegation of state officials, along with a representative of the Federal Highways Administration and HNTB Corp., the design consultant that drew up original plans for the renovation project, were in the tunnel earlier this week to assess how much work needed to be completed before it would be safe to re-open.

Later in the day, the group met with officials of Sharon Center, Ohio-based Velotta and its sub-contractors to discuss the situation.

Rumbaugh said the state would like to have the tunnel re-opened by Nov. 16, but no date can be confirmed until safety issues inside the tunnel are resolved.

Rumbaugh said safety issues arose late Thursday. The tunnel “will not be opened until it is safe for the public,” he said.

“We had planned to install new fire prevention and camera systems, but scheduling problems may lead us to repairing and putting into use the existing systems,” he said. “It’s possible to get it done by (Nov. 16), but we are not sure.”

Meanwhile, Darrell Allen, deputy state highway engineer for construction, said “We are closing out our contract with Velotta. We will pay them for what they have done and, then, advertise for bids for completion of the remainder of work on the eastbound tube and renovation of the westbound tube.”

He said the move comes because of an increase in the scope of the work.

“What they gave us a price to do and what they are doing is totally different,” Allen said.

Allen said new bidding documents will better define the scope of work to be done.

“We will have better control on the quantity of work, budgeting and scheduling,” Allen said.

Velotta will have a right to submit a bid when the revised documents are advertised. “We have worked with them on several projects in the past and, for the most part, we have been satisfied,” Allen said.

In addition to a new contractor, it’s possible a new design consultant will be called into the project.

Rumbaugh said, “HNTB could be used to revise the plans, we could advertise for new plans or we could modify existing plans ourselves.”

Once the tube is opened, it will remain open while officials prepare new bidding documents.

Rumbaugh said it is difficult to determine when work on the eastbound tube may resume but “in a best case scenario, we are probably looking at March or April.”

The westbound tube was scheduled to close for 107 days from January until May 16.

The eastbound tube has been plagued by delays since work on the $5.7 million project began in January. The project initially was supposed to take 111 days, with a Nov. 1 deadline coming next and then a Nov. 16 deadline.

Work remaining on the eastbound tube includes installation of new fire boxes in tunnel walls, cable guard rail along sidewalks, new water sprinkling system, and a new security camera system; power washing the entire tunnel; completion of final drain cleaning; repaving the road surface; painting and several projects on outside of tunnel.

In a related matter, West Virginia Sen. Andy McKenzie, R-Ohio, submitted a letter this week to Paul Mattox Jr., the state transportation secretary, asking the tunnel be re-opened until next spring.

He cited the Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights, other holiday events and loss of local business as reasons to open the tube.

McKenzie wrote, “While the $5.7 million project lags five months behind its deadline, I see the Wheeling economy losing its grip, and that slippage cannot continue throughout the holiday season. Not only have the large enterprises felt the economic impact of the calamitous project, but also have small business proprietors.”

“As such, I am respectfully requesting that all work on the tunnel be halted within the next two weeks and postponed until the spring of 2008.”

Article Photos

File photo
The West Virginia Department of Transportation has announced that the eastbound tube of the Wheeling Tunnel will be open as soon as safety issues are addressed.

 
 

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