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Liberty University’s tunnel.

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Liberty University Tunnel (campus side)

Liberty University Tunnel (campus side)

 

Tunnel at Liberty University

Liberty University side of the tunnel

Liberty University opened a new entrance onto their campus last May with the completion of their new tunnel that goes under the Norfolk-Southern railroad tracks..  What made this project unique and interesting, at least from my point of view, is how the tunnel was constructed.  The tunnels were prefabricated and shipped to the site.  Each tunnel is a large concrete box weighing 4.2 million pounds and measuring 26 feet tall, 32 feet wide and 130 feet long.

Tunnel at Liberty University

Tunnel was pulled from this side

A large concrete pad was constructed and these massive concrete boxes were positioned on the pad on the Liberty University side of the tracks. The boxes were pulled and pushed through the soil until they broke through the other side.  On the “other side” of the tracks the ground was reinforced with steel and concrete and holes were drilled through to the Liberty University campus side and cables were run through and connected to the concrete boxes that would be pulled through.  The boxes were equipped with cutting edges to aid in the process.  When pulling with the cables wasn’t sufficient to move these giant boxes they were also pushed.

Tunnel at Liberty University

Tunnel pushes through to the other side

As the boxes were being pushed and pulled, excavating equipment was in the box to remove the earth as it made its way under the railroad tracks.  This is the first time that this type of tunnel construction had been done in North America. During the entire process, engineers from Norfolk-Southern were on site to ensure the earth below the tracks was solid so that trains passing overhead wouldn’t derail.

After breaking through to the other side (Wards Road), pavement was put down and the tunnel was opened for traffic just in time for Liberty University’s 2013 graduation.  Since its opening the entrances on both sides have undergone some cosmetic improvements such as bricking the walls, landscaping, adding lighting and putting in a pedestrian walkway.

 

Tunnel at Liberty University

Inside tunnel facing Wards Road

Today, driving through the tunnels one would never think about how they got here, but I found it very interesting to watch the process.  To most it is just a tunnel but to me, it is a project that demonstrated man’s ability to think outside the box in problem solving.  Next time you drive by the tunnel imagine what it took to drag/pull a 4.2 million pound box of concrete through the earth. While the tunnel will never be a tourist attraction in Lynchburg or for Liberty University, the story about how it got here is worth remembering.

Recently the tunnel construction project was named best Small Project (under $10 million) in the MidAtlantic region, consisting of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia by Engineering News-Record (ENR) MidAtlantic, a magazine and website for construction industry professionals.

There are many things to do and see during your stay at The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast, but if you drive by the tunnel perhaps now you can appreciate the story of “The Tunnel” as we now call it.