Virginia’s Emergency Management Agencies Plan for Major Truck Accident in a Tunnel
If you thought the commute into Norfolk was horrendous enough every morning, just imagine the scenario if a truck lost its load in the Midtown or Downtown Tunnel on a snowy day.
It may sound like a theoretical nightmare, but it’s a scenario that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Transportation Operation and Management, LLC, have been planning for as part of an emergency response training exercise involving “real-world possibilities and how best to respond.”
The exercise was recently reported on in the Emergency Management publication. In a recent edition, the magazine highlighted a potential scenario involving a crash with four-hour delays on a major holiday weekend to a truck shedding its load inside a tunnel on Interstate 77 on a snow day.
Each of the accident scenarios were meticulously reviewed and discussed among emergency responders including police, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia State Police, fire and ambulance workers and VDOT.
Accidents in tunnels are an alarming prospect, particularly when they involve big rigs. Hampton Roads has five significant tunnels, so it’s a very real prospect here.
In July 2014, a tractor-trailer caught fire in the northbound side of the East River Mountain Tunnel, leading to massive delays stretching to North Carolina. More traffic problems ensured when tractor-trailers attempted to get over East River Mountain only for their drivers to find the two-lane road was not suitable for large trucks.
“Every scenario presented different challenges, agency responses and communication needs,” Tim Martin, VDOT Regional Traffic Operations Manager, stated. “By staging these scenarios we see where the gaps may lie and what needs to be done to prepare should the scenarios actually occur.”
Two major exercises were held this fall – one specific to East River Mountain Tunnel and one for Big Walker Mountain Tunnel.
Emergency Management noted how mock exercises have resulted in “beneficial changes,” such as additional fire trucks at tunnels.
In Hampton Roads, key bridges and tunnels such as the Downtown Tunnel, the Monitor Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel and the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, are often closed down due to accidents. On some occasions big rigs have come to grief. Last year a trucker was killed when his big rig crashed off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.