Software glitch results in damage to East End tunnel fire safety system
By closing the tunnel to shipments of potentially harmful chemicals and other substances, those vehicles would be forced to cross the Ohio River on the Interstate 65 bridges downtown or via the I-64 Sherman Minton Bridge.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A computer malfunction resulted in unknown damage to a system designed to extinguish and put out fires in a 1,700-foot-long highway tunnel leading to the Lewis and Clark Bridge near Prospect, Kentucky officials said Friday.
Vehicles carrying hazardous materials will be banned from the tunnel starting at 9 a.m. Monday, when repairs are scheduled to begin.
The fire safety equipment was damaged after a false fire alarm in the tunnel on December 29, according to a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet timeline. The system's software didn't notify tunnel operators that a water pump had been shut down when the alarm sounded, spokeswoman Andrea Clifford said.
The water was not moving and subsequently froze when frigid weather arrived, causing pipes to burst. Transportation officials noticed "visible damage" to the system on Jan. 3, according to a news release.
Kentucky is responsible for the tunnel as part of the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project, even though Indiana oversaw the construction and funding of it and the roads leading to the Lewis and Clark on both sides of the river.
"When we get these repairs done we're going to work with the software so see if a notification can be sent" if the pump shuts off in the future, Clifford said.
Kentucky officials said in the news release that the water system is not the only method of handling potential fires in the tunnel; the nearby Harrods Creek Fire Department has been trained to respond to emergencies in the tunnel.
"The determination to continue to allow traffic through the East End Tunnel was made once we had assurance that emergency service providers could respond in the event of a fire emergency caused by a traffic incident," said Matt Bullock, the state's chief engineer in Louisville. “The fire suppression system is one facet of the response efforts we have in place to address possible tunnel fires. Restricting traffic is simply a precaution.”
By closing the tunnel to shipments of potentially harmful chemicals and other substances, those vehicles will now be rerouted across the Ohio River on the Interstate 65 bridges downtown, according to the state's detour route. It will send northbound traffic along the Gene Snyder Freeway to Interstate 71 South, then to the I-65 Lincoln Bridge downtown.
In Indiana, officials plan to send traffic that would have taken the Lewis and Clark onto the I-65 South Kennedy Bridge.
Clifford didn’t immediately know how many vehicles would need to be rerouted. But Melissa Zink, communications director of the Kentucky Trucking Association, said she didn’t believe it would be a significant number.
“I don’t think there’s a large amount of Hazmat-placarded traffic that goes through there because it’s not a heavily traveled corridor,” she said.
An average of about 18,400 vehicles used the Lewis and Clark each day during July, August and September, according to estimates.
A controversial aspect of the bridges project, the tunnel carries Kentucky 841 beneath the Drumanard estate near Prospect on the approach to the eastern bridge. The underground route was selected as Kentucky and Indiana sought to comply with federal rules meant to protect historic properties.
It cost $495 million for the tunnel and the Kentucky approach roads, but the states have not disclosed the actual price tag of the tunnel itself.
Northrop Grumman of McLean, Va., monitors the tunnel as part of a $12 million contract with Kentucky state government that also includes operating the TRIMARC traffic management system. A spokesman referred questions to the transportation cabinet.