Truck Scrapes Tunnel Top and Halts Travels for Hours

By Stefanie Jackson — A tractor-trailer traveling northbound on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was involved in a single-vehicle accident inside the Thimble Shoals tunnel on Monday at approximately 11 a.m.

No one was injured, but traffic delays persisted for about 16.5 hours until approximately 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. Some travelers reported on Facebook being delayed as much as 6-8 hours.

The tractor-trailer belonged to Chesapeake Tunnel Joint Venture, the company constructing the new parallel tunnel at Thimble Shoals channel. 

Bridge-tunnel officials gave details about the accident in a follow-up press release. The truck was transporting a piece of heavy construction equipment from Island One to Island Two, one of four manmade islands that are part of the bridge-tunnel system, when the tractor-trailer struck the tunnel ceiling. Because the truck did not pass through the toll lanes at either end of the CBBT, it was not subjected to a height check.

The bridge-tunnel was completely closed until 3:20 p.m., or about 4.5 hours. After two failed attempts to clean up the debris and remove the tractor-trailer and equipment from the tunnel, “motivated by the knowledge that our customers have no viable alternative to this route,” according to the CBBT press release, a single lane was opened to alternating northbound and southbound traffic.

This process is frequently used when work is being done inside either tunnel at night. It generally adds 15 to 20 minutes to a CBBT customer’s travel time, but “a series of events conspired to delay travelers far beyond anything that we would have anticipated,” the press release continued.

Larger vehicles were having trouble navigating through the 10-foot-wide travel lane.

Some drivers encountered “car trouble of their own after being delayed for such an extended period,” furthering the overall delay for all involved.

Travelers made the best of the situation. “The weather is nice, the windows are down (and the car turned off) and I’m listening to a good book on CD,” posted Channing Warick Guvernator, of Onancock, to Facebook. She spent 2½ hours trying to cross northbound. She was alerted early about the shutdown and spent time at the nearby outlet mall before venturing onto the bridge-tunnel. She fared better than most.

Deborah Martson spent six hours trying to cross with a 3-year-old in tow.  “It was insanity,”
she posted on Facebook. “I feel the bridge should have been closed. No food, water or bathroom is crazy!” she continued. “Why were they taking our toll money? Makes me a little crazy just thinking about it.”

Usually, the proportion of northbound and southbound vehicles crossing the bridge-tunnel is 50-50, but on Oct. 1, there were 20 percent more southbound vehicles on the CBBT.

At 9:30 p.m., southbound vehicles were prioritized to alleviate traffic delays. At 10 p.m., about 6.5 hours after the single lane had been opened to traffic, the bridge-tunnel closed again so all remaining vehicles could exit.

A third attempt to remove the tractor-trailer and equipment from the tunnel was made around midnight, which eventually succeeded, allowing the bridge-tunnel to reopen at 3:30 a.m.

The CBBT issued an apology on Tuesday for the “extreme inconveniences” its customers experienced. Due to “legislative enablement and bond contracts,” the CBBT is unable to refund tolls, but Chesapeake Tunnel Joint Venture, who is responsible for the accident, is setting up a toll relief fund for travelers who were inconvenienced.

That was cold consolation to Jennifer Oneil Slovinski. “I want my time back,” she said, adding the toll “is nothing.”

The CBBT will release further information on the toll relief fund as it becomes available.

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