NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) - Millions of your tax dollars are going down the tube at the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunne l.
The James River crossing opened in 1992, and almost from the start there's been river water leaking at the mouth of the tubes, running into the tubes, and causing potholes. Some of the brightest engineering minds have failed to fix the problem.
10 On Your Side received emails from our viewers asking about this issue, complaining how the salt water of the James River is splashing up on cars going through the tunnel.
We started looking into this, and VDOT is quick to point out there are no structural issues at the tunnel.
The tunnel is not leaking, but the water leaking from outside the tunnel is rolling into the tunnel and causing potholes in the drive lanes.
This is costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
"I was hoping we would conquer this problem, and stop having pot holes in the roadway because of water intrusion," said Dwayne Cook, VDOT's Director of Operations.
Millions of dollars later, the problem remains unsolved, which Cook acknowledged.
"That's the real problem here, the water gets under the asphalt, it causes it to weaken, and causes potholes, and we have to continually go in there and patch the pot holes, patch the pot holes," Cook explained.
According to VDOT patching those pot holes has cost taxpayers $30,000 since September alone. Cook admitted it's a maintenance nightmare. Every three days VDOT crews are patching pot holes.
"By design we should not have a leak," said Cook.
Two engineering companies and Virginia Paving Company could not fix the leak with $3.6 million dollars of taxpayer money. Virginia Paving would not issue a comment about why the company could not plug the link
Cook's reply was, "I believe what we identified as a mitigation solution from our tunnel designers was a well engineered solution."
Cook stands by the work done between March and July 2012.
- To plug the leaks they excavated the pavement in 32 areas,
- They drilled holes in the walls and underneath the road bed,
- They then injected a high tech special grout to hold back the water.
- They repaved the roadway
Despite this work, the leak remains.
10 On Your Side obtained a November 2009 memorandum from the engineering consultant, Parsons Brinkerhoff, that estimated the work of resealing the joints by injecting grout to basically plug the leaks to cost $330,000 for 875 linear feet of work, not including paving.
By the time the work was done in 2012 the cost ballooned more than ten times to$3.6 million for 12,633 linear feet.
In the November 18, 2009 memorandum, PB writes, "This method is a cost-effective permanent solution." Based on the results, that does not appear to be true, and the cost to taxpayers keeps going up.
There has been a new meeting of the minds to figure out how to plug the leaks, "They are going to have a series of meetings starting this month, they are going to take the lessons learned, use some other strategies, and they have an idea on what they are going to do," Cook said.
The likely short term solution is to drill some relief holes outside the travel lanes leaving them unplugged, and then reseal the areas inside the wheel paths in hopes to stop the potholes. This plan will not stop the leaking of river water into the mouth of the tunnel.
The ultimate solution goes something like this: Put in some new drains to channel the river water into the pumping system that pumps the water back into the river. At this time, though, that solution costs too much money.
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