Twin tunnels carry Interstate 70 and US Route 250 under Wheeling Hill in Wheeling, West Virginia.
A highway tunnel through Wheeling Hill to connect to the then-under-construction Fort Henry Bridge was first proposed in 1954. 2 An ordinance to authorize the construction of a $12 million tolled tunnel was introduced to the city council on November 10, which would have authorized the North American Construction company to build the project under the authority of the state’s Bridge Act. 1 The ordinance’s passage would have permitted the company to start court action to test the project’s legality, as the Bridge Act did not specifically provide for the construction of toll tunnels.
Although the tolled tunnel proposal was unable to proceed because of difficulty marketing the revenue bonds, 10 the desire for a tunnel to connect the Fort Henry Bridge, which carried US Routes 40 and 250, to the other side of Wheeling Hill grew even larger with the advent of the federal Interstate Highway System. 2 In December 1956, the State Road Commission announced plans for a four-lane tunnel through Wheeling Hill that would form part of the US Route 40 section of the Interstate Highway System.
In August 1957, the Commission received approval from the U.S. Bureau of Roads to begin engineering studies on what would become Interstate 70, which would be a part of West Virginia’s 535-mile proposed interstate system. 3
The construction contract for the tunnel was awarded to C.J. Langenfelder & Son of Baltimore in July 1963. 6 9 Governor William Wallace Barron broke ground for the Wheeling Hill tunnel on August 22. 5 The project was described as the costliest project in the state’s interstate highway program, with Interstate 70 projected to cost $44.5 million, or $3.1 million per mile. 3 The tunnel itself was estimated to cost $6,961,000, with the downtown interchange at the west end of the tunnel estimated to cost $1,580,000.
Construction was halted for a brief period in 1964 after 14 workers became ill because of carbon monoxide fumes, with work resuming after ventilation fans were installed. 6
The first tunnel tube was punched through the hill on April 7. 4 A “holing out” ceremony was attended by Governor Barron, and civic, government, and construction dignitaries. The Wheeling Tunnel opened to traffic on December 7, 1966, 7 and was dedicated by Governor Hulett Smith on December 12. 8
Plans to rehabilitate the Wheeling Tunnel were formed in 2005, 11 and work began in January 2007. The project to renovate the eastbound tube was planned to take three months, although it encountered delays because of the difficulty of sourcing tiles. 12 The eastbound tube reopened to traffic on October 31, 2008. 13 The westbound tube was closed in February 2010 14 and reopened a month ahead of schedule in September. 15 The total cost of the project was over double the original bid of $13.7 million because of the delays. 16
- State: West Virginia
- Route: Interstate 70, US Route 250
- Type: Tunnel
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 1,491 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- “Wheeling Plans New Toll Tunnel.” Pittsburgh Press, 10 Nov. 1954, p. 54.
- “Wheeling to Get Road Tunnel.” Raleigh Register [Beckley], 19 Dec. 1956, p. 9.
- White, William A. “Wheeling Link Price: Nearly $3½ Million A Mile.” Pittsburgh Press, 13 Oct. 1963, p. 2.3.
- “Tunnel to ‘Hole Out’ on W.Va. Interstate 70.” Pittsburgh Press, 5 Apr. 1964, p. 2.1.
- “Break Ground for Wheeling Tunnel.” Washington Observer, 23 Aug. 1963.
- “Local Man is Among 14 Overcome by Fumes at Wheeling Tunnel Project.” Washington Observer, 24 Jul. 1964.
- Connors, Fred. “W.Va. Courts Tile Makers.” Intelligencer & Wheeling News-Register, 12 Mar. 2007.
- “Tunnel Dedication Today.” Beckley Post-Herald, 12 Dec. 1966, p. 1.
- “SRC Awards Interstate 70 Tunnel Work.” Evening Times [Cumberland], 22 Jul. 1963, p. 16.
- “Wheeling Tunnel Plan Hits Temporary Snag.” Evening Review [East Liverpool], 19 Aug. 1955, p. 16.
- Echemann, Jerry. “Reaction to Wheeling Tunnel Renovations.” WOWK-TV, 17 Feb. 2005.
- “Motorists Warned to Avoid Wheeling Tunnel.” WHSV-TV, 23 Jul. 2008.
- Towne, Leigh Ann. “Eastbound Tube of Wheeling Tunnel to Open Friday.” WTRF-TV, 31 Oct. 2008.
- Johnson Jr., J.W. “Tube Closed Until October.” Intelligencer & Wheeling News-Register, 2 Feb. 2010.
- “Wheeling Tunnel to open Sept. 2.” Charleston Daily Mail, 28 Aug. 2010.
- “Answer Tunnel Cost Questions.” Intelligencer & Wheeling News-Register, 26 Jun. 2010.