Repairs to East End tunnel sprinkler system set to start this week
Cold weather has delayed the start of the work meant to assess damage to a fire safety system inside the 1,700-foot-long tunnel near the Lewis and Clark Bridge.,
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Repairs to a broken sprinkler system inside a highway tunnel near the Lewis and Clark Bridge are expected to start later this week once warmer weather returns.
The damaged pipes contain frozen water that first must be drained, and the work to remove the pipes will require one lane inside the tunnel to close, said Andrea Clifford, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Highways.
“We didn’t want to set up a lane closure today with snow coming down, trying to shift people over,” she said Monday. “That would really create a hazardous situation for drivers.”
But a ban on shipments of hazardous materials though the tunnel did begin Monday morning, less than three days after state officials publicly disclosed damage to a fire suppression system first discovered on January 3.
Most vehicles still may use the 1,700-foot-long tunnel leading to the bridge in eastern Jefferson County. Trucks carrying potentially dangerous chemicals and other substances have been rerouted along the Interstate 65 bridges in downtown Louisville.
More than a week passed from the time Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials said crews noticed the fire safety system was out of service and their January 12 announcement. Clifford said the state needed that time to inform trucking groups and coordinate with law enforcement and other agencies that will enforce the ban on hazardous shipments.
Without a working sprinkler system above the highway, the Harrods Creek Fire Department moved tanker trucks closer “should there be a situation at the tunnel.”
The Harrods Creek department has trained for emergencies in the tunnel, which runs under U.S. 42 and the nearby Drumanard estate that was spared in a controversial move to preserve gardens that have arguable historic significance.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Greg Thomas ordered the ban on hazardous materials in the tunnel until “appropriate repairs” are made to the water system. The extent of the damage isn’t yet known.
The problem stems from a false fire alarm in the tunnel on December 29, but the tunnel’s software system didn’t alert operators that a water pump had been shut down when the alarm sounded, according to the transportation cabinet.
Cold weather then caused the pipes to freeze, and “visible damage” was discovered five days later.
“The tunnel is safe for the drivers,” Clifford said. “The fire suppression system is a supplement there at the tunnels. You always will still have to have response from the fire department.”