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.)
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.
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.
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