HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) said it had no choice but to temporarily close the eastbound tube of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT) Tuesday afternoon — it was an emergency safety issue. But exactly what went wrong is still unclear.
Chesapeake resident Harley White was traveling through the tunnel when he says something fell from the ceiling and hit his truck. He called in a complaint, VDOT crews visually inspected the tunnel, found something and then closed down the eastbound tube for emergency repairs. But VDOT insists tiles that weigh hundreds of pounds could not have fallen.
“I was coming in the tunnel, and it went ‘boom’ in the front of the truck, and it rattled underneath,” White said. “I couldn’t see any kind of shape to it. It came down at an angle this way, and the truck hit it as it came down in front of the truck, and it went under my truck.”
On Wednesday, VDOT confirmed no tiles or panels fell or detached from the ceiling at any time, but said during the emergency repairs Tuesday, crews realigned and reinforced panel attachments on the ceiling for enhanced safety.
“The staff happened to notice these tiles were out of alignment,” said Dwayne Cook, VDOT’s Regional Operations Director. “[The call] did bring that to our attention and we appreciate that. But, I don’t think that these two events are connected at all.”
VDOT claims an internal bolt broke within the metal panel in the ceiling. The 50-pound panels are interlocked, and the broken bolt caused two panels to become misaligned.
But White insists he saw something fall, hitting his truck. WAVY.com asked him if he is sure it happened in the tunnel and not somewhere else.
“Oh absolutely, absolutely,” he said. “It hit so hard I thought it probably penetrated the radiator.”
White drove home after the incident. When he heard of VDOT closing down the eastbound tube where he says he got hit, he called VDOT for a second time.
“I told them, ‘I’m the person who reported my truck being hit.’ The VDOT person said to me all he knew was something came loose in the ceiling of the tunnel and they said they shut the tunnel down,” White said.
VDOT explained other potential reasons for the damage on White’s truck.
“There’s debris all over the roadways, all over the region, including the bridges and tunnels,” said Cook. “So something very well could have spun up and hit this individuals truck.”
White sent a damage estimate to VDOT of $787. VDOT says it will review the estimate and claim before processing any reimbursement.
Currently, VDOT engineers are evaluating panels at the opening of the tube in Hampton, trying to determine if additional action is required to secure or remove any panels.