Comparing the Lehigh Tunnel in Pennsylvania with the CGT

The Lehigh tunnel in Pennsylvania

The Lehigh Tunnel carries interstate I-476 under Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania. It’s part of the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Although the original single tunnel was dug in the 1950’s, the southbound passage of Lehigh Tunnel was tunneled in the early 90s, the same time period as Cumberland Gap Tunnel.

The southbound passage of Lehigh Tunnel is an ideal tunnel to do a side-by-side analysis with as it was built approximately in the same time period and is almost as long as the CGT at close to 4400 feet. (The CGT is 4600 feet.)

Local newspaper article about the Lehigh Tunnel

Comparing the Lehigh Tunnel with the Cumberland Gap Tunnel

And the contract goes to…(the bidding process…or lack thereof)

Lehigh Tunnel- open, transparent bidding process where the contract was awarded to the low bidder, a company out of Chicago. Find the article here.

Cumberland Gap Tunnel- I find no record of a bidding process or how it was determined to award the contract for CGT to Parsons Brinckerhoff, worldwide leader in D.U.M.B. base design

 

Cost per structure
(keep in mind the figures for the Lehigh Tunnel are for a single tunnel vs the double tunnel at Cumberland Gap- this is accounted for in the analysis)

  • Lehigh Tunnel– $37.8 million dollars plus an additional $10 million for the portals, a total cost of $47.8 million for one tunnel
  • Cumberland Gap Tunnel-$280 million for two tunnels, or, $140 million per tunnel

The Cumberland Gap Tunnel cost $100 million more dollars per tunnel to build than the Lehigh Tunnel, for approximately the same distance.

Why?

I am sure the tunnel contractors would tell you “tunnels are like snowflakes- no two are the same”- and therefore you cannot predict the obstacles or ease one might encounter when tunneling. Fair enough.

But note the current proposal on the table for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission: do away with the tunnels completely and cut a road over the mountains. A consultant to the Turnpike Commission stated, “Annual maintenance costs for a tunnel would exceed…several times what an open highway segment would cost.”

We already had a highway over Cumberland Gap. If the consensus by industry professionals is that a road over a mountain can be safely traveled by tens of thousands of people and save untold millions of dollars in the long run, why did the Feds do away with ours? Why wasn’t our highway widened at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers, making it a safe, viable route over the Gap?

 

Security and surveillance

  • Lehigh Tunnel– state-of-the-art 360-degree view IPIX security cameras/ surveillance systems ARE NOT installed in the tunnel
  • Cumberland Gap Tunnel-outfitted with Oak Ridge-based company’s IPIX “Photobubble” security cameras at several locations at both north and south approaches to the tunnel as well as inside the tunnel spaced approximately 10-15 feet apart. This is a total of between 100-200 security cameras in operation at Cumberland Gap Tunnel. The IPIX company has direct ties to the Oak Ridge nuclear complex (see post here).

Hazmat Escorts and Restrictions

  • Lehigh Tunnel– hazmat trucks prohibited so there are no tunnel escorts while traffic waits
  • Cumberland Gap Tunnel-all hazmat materials permitted except explosives. Hazmat material permitted inside tunnel includes radioactive material.  The tunnel must pay the cost of several employees to run the hazmat “checkpoints”.

This is the one part of the equation that I’m having trouble reconciling. If there is sensitive equipment or a military installation that they are protecting from terrorist attack, why not just prohibit all hazmat traffic (and therefore potential ‘weapons’)?

One answer could lie in the fact Highway 25E is a “nuclear highway”, or a designated route for hauling radioactive materials through less populated areas to lower the general public’s exposure risk. Below is a screenshot taken from the WIPP Transportation Program that shows not only is Cumberland Gap Tunnel located on a preferred route for nuclear transport, but the route is designated an HRCQ route.

Screen shot 2015-02-08 at 10.06.03 AM

What is an HRCQ route? From Oak Ridge Associated Universities online library:

A “Highway Route Controlled Quantity” (HRCQ) requires Type B packaging, and has certain highway routing limitations and requirements (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations).

The HRCQ applies to the content of a single package – not to the sum of contents of all packages, i.e., in a shipment which exceeds: (1) 3000 times the A1 value of the radionuclide as specified in §173.435 for special form Class 7 material; or (2) 3000 times the A2 value of the radionuclide as specified in §173.435 for normal form Class 7 materials; or (3) 1000 TBq (27,000 Curies), whichever is least.

In other words, the really dangerous, most highly radioactive shipments are sent down Highway 25E through Cumberland Gap Tunnel.

If the contents of the package being shipped are determined to be a HRCQ, the package must be transported under specific routing controls: (a) The carrier must operate on “preferred routes” that conform to §397.101(b) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

An educated guess is the tunnel was built because 25E is a nuclear highway. They needed a safer route for their enriched uranium coming from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion plant down Corridor B to Oak Ridge. It wasn’t to benefit our community like they espoused.

And heck, if you’re already letting the worst of the worst radioactive material through, what’s it hurt to let the gasoline tankers go through as well?

Cargo bays and mysterious passageways leading under the mountain

  • Lehigh Tunnel– No.
  • Cumberland Gap Tunnel– Yes

Is Cumberland Gap Tunnel Part of a Secret Underground Military Installation?

MENTION THIS TO MOST OF THE LOCALS AND THEY’LL SCOFF AT YOU.

However, a growing number of us are questioning the federal government’s official reason for building the approximately mile-long tunnel: the highway over the mountain was responsible for an average of 5 deaths a year. This will be safer, they said, and it would allow the park to restore Cumberland Gap Trail to the way it looked when Daniel Boone walked it 200 years ago, they lauded.

It appeared the federal government really cared about us. But one of the first negative impacts the tunnel had was on tourism: Cudjo’s Cave, one of the area’s largest tourist attractions, no longer had a road to bring tourists to visit. Essentially whatever economic impact the impressive cave had on the region was suddenly strangled. Fast forward to today: visits to the cave are strictly regulated and only offered a few times a year. They tell us it’s because of white nose bat syndrome.

Mammoth Cave, in south central Kentucky, illustrates how they control and prevent white nose bat syndrome from spreading while keeping their cave open to the public (taken from the National Park Service’s website about Mammoth Cave at http://www.nps.gov/maca/whitenose.htm):

Significant evidence indicates that humans can and have transmitted the fungus from one cave to another, hastening its spread. While no tours at Mammoth Cave National Park enter areas used by colonies of bats for hibernation, bats do occasionally fly through toured sections of the cave year-round.

On the remote chance that you might come into contact with Geomyces destructans spores during your tour of Mammoth Cave, all participants in Mammoth Cave National Park cave tours will be required to walk the length of an artificial turf mat to remove spores and dirt after exiting the Cave. We also ask for your cooperation by washing your hands and changing clothes and footwear before visiting any other caves or mines.

If Mammoth Cave can take precautions to prevent the spread of this disease without turning the public away then Cumberland Gap National Park has a moral and ethical duty to our community to do the same. Thanks to the federal government the future of coal is looking bleak. To counter that, tourism tops the list of  Southeast Kentucky’s possible revenue generators…but not if the Feds don’t give us our cave back.

DOES THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAVE AN ULTERIOR MOTIVE FOR MAKING CUDJO’S CAVE DIFFICULT TO ACCESS?

Did the federal government remove the road and then begin to use the excuse of white nose bat syndrome to keep the public out of Cudjo’s Cave?

A woman who has spent her life in the surrounding community tells an interesting story about exploring the cave as a child. As a small girl, approximately 50 years ago or so, she and a friend would sneak into the cave to go swimming in the pools of water, which was quite a treat back then. To do this, they would squeeze back behind the stalactites and stalagmites which their small size afforded them. She tells of finding obvious military storage in one of the cavernous rooms: boxes, crates and equipment in a part of the cave that was off limits to the public.

Aside from the cave’s use by troops during the Civil War, this woman’s story is the first indication the U.S. military has had a recent interest in Cudjo’s Cave and Cumberland Mountain. Oak Ridge lies approximately 50 miles southwest in the same mountain chain. This area is littered with hundreds of miles of deep underground coal mines and natural caves. Is it too far a stretch to consider the possibility that Cudjo’s Cave, Cumberland Gap Tunnel and Oak Ridge could be connected?