Michelle Earl 276-696-3283


Nov. 9, 2015

VDOT's Mountain Tunnels: real-world scenarios reviewed to enhance safety

BRISTOL— The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Transportation Operation and Management, LLC, VDOT’s partner in emergency response for the I-77 mountain tunnels, recently hosted a training exercise involving real-world possibilities and how best to respond. 

From a scenario involving an accident with four-hour delays on a major holiday weekend to a truck losing its load inside the tunnel on a snow day, each scenario was reviewed and discussed among local fire, police, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia State Police and VDOT.

“Every scenario presented different challenges, agency responses and communication needs,” Tim Martin, VDOT Regional Traffic Operations Manager, said. “By staging these scenarios we see where the gaps may lie and what needs to be done to prepare should the scenarios actually occur.”

VDOT staff and TOM held two scenarios this fall, one specific to East River Mountain Tunnel and one for Big Walker Mountain Tunnel.

“It was beneficial to hold separate exercises because the tunnels are distinct,” Martin said.  “With East River Mountain Tunnel being shared between the two states, it presents communications challenges that may not be the same for Big Walker Mountain Tunnel.”

Earlier mock exercises have led to beneficial changes, such as the addition of the fire trucks and trained fire staff at each tunnel as well as the addition of a radio system at each tunnel to communicate with first responders.

“We will always need the help of local fire and EMS when an incident arises, but past mock exercises helped VDOT see how crucial adding the fire trucks and radio system would be to providing a quicker response and better protection.”

Interstate 77 Big Walker Mountain Tunnel opened to traffic in 1972 and East River Mountain Tunnel in 1974.  On average, approximately 30,000 vehicles per day pass through the tunnels.




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Page last modified: Nov. 9, 2015