Editor’s note: Since this story aired, the Department of Transportation announced a new, shorter timeline for repairs. View the full update here.
A 50-foot section of the ceiling inside the Wilson Tunnel could have fallen if the state had not taken immediate steps to begin emergency repairs.
That’s according to state deputy director of highways Ed Sniffen.
On Friday, we heard from transportation officials for the first time since the townbound lanes were closed one week ago.
Sniffen says inspections on the Wilson Tunnel will happen more frequently and the work could take an additional month after the parts arrive.
Thirty stainless steel rods are disconnected inside the Honolulu-bound tunnel. There are more than 300 rods in each tunnel that are supposed to support the ceiling.
Now wooden beams are temporarily stabilizing the concrete panels inside.
After several requests for an interview, Sniffen finally answered some of our questions about what’s causing damage to these rods.
“When they were in that plenum area (the space above the tunnel’s ceiling), you could feel that ceiling vibrating a bit, they believe that the air flow at certain points could have caused a stressing of a rod,” Sniffen said.
Sniffen says crews didn’t encounter any issues with the rods during the last inspection in 2013.
But KHON2 dug through the report from 2011 that shows what the state itself called “cracks” up above, even water draining, and cracking and breaks in the concrete.
In 2013, cracks were reported in the air shaft deck.
In the past, inspections were done every two years, but on Friday we learned the Wilson Tunnel will be inspected once a year.
Sniffen says a bid is being put out to contractors for the making of new stainless steel rods.
Tunnel repairs will start when the parts and materials arrive which could be three to four weeks. The actual repairs could be an additional two to four weeks, meaning it could be up to two months before both of the Honolulu-bound lanes open.
Once the parts arrive, there could some potential closures. Crews are expected to work from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. to do spalling and drilling work on the side of the road, and both lanes could be closed from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. to finish the repairs.
“This is an emergency now,” Sniffen said. “We wanted to make sure that none of the portions of the ceiling fall on any of the motorists.”
For now, the state says the Wilson tunnel is safe and once this repair work is complete, they will start another project to address rods that could disconnect in the future.
It is estimated that about 9,500 commuters use the Wilson Tunnel during workday mornings from 9 a.m.-noon.
Click on the following for a breakdown of tunnel inspection reports by year:
- 2005: Inbound | Outbound
- 2007: Inbound | Outbound
- 2009: Inbound | Outbound
- 2011: Inbound | Outbound
- 2013: Inbound | Outbound
The following photos were provided by the state Department of Transportation: