Twenty years ago, one of the world’s feats of engineering was completed right here in the Tri-State. Many locals drive through it at least once a day and have forgotten what life was like before the Cumberland Gap Tunnel.
A quick trip to the grocery or to the next state is made safer and simpler thanks to the tunnel. Construction was completed just two decades ago and the machinery, manpower and technology used helped to convert what was once known as the dangerous “Massacre Mountain” to a bustling highway which has benefited tourism, the flow of traffic and an important part of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
Day-to-day operations at the tunnel now require the teamwork of 35 employees with job titles ranging from mechanical engineers and electronics specialists to maintenance technicians and operations staff. Many employees are cross-trained in emergency response, firefighting and HAZ-MAT to ensure the safety of motorists crossing through the tunnel daily.
Years of geological research, engineers crunching numbers and designing went into the tunnel project.
“A sophisticated control center was located in the Kentucky portal building for monitoring tunnel operating systems like water flow from the mountain, ventilation and air quality as well as traffic volume and motorists speed. Dynamic message signs were installed for traffic control during HAZ-MAT escorts and any problems that would require a tunnel bore closure or lane closures,” said Robert Morrison, Cumberland Gap Tunnel manager.
While the tunnel may look very similar to how it did when it first opened, technology has made many changes to the inner workings and monitoring systems of the tunnel.
“I think technology is the biggest change. In 1996, the most current operating system for computers was Windows NT 3.5. We used 3.5 inch floppy disc drives and a 250 megabyte tape back-up to save our work. Today, a cell phone alone has a greater capacity than that,” said Blenda Longworth, administrative assistant at the Cumberland Gap Tunnel.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, CGNHP held an event Oct. 18. The event had an exhibit of additional photos from the construction and tunnel employees to answer questions about the history of the tunnel.
Reach Kelsey Gerhardt at 606-302-9093 or on Twitter @kgerhardtmbdn.