First responders preparing for new Midtown Tunnel

Photo Credit: Elizabeth River Tunnels Project

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth Fire-Rescue responders are walking through the new Midtown Tunnel Thursday morning.

Elizabeth River Tunnels Project officials have estimated that the new tunnel should open up this summer — several months ahead of schedule.

“It’s been quite an effort for the last three or four years to get ready,” said Jeff Minnix, Chief Operating Officer with Elizabeth River Crossings.

While ERC says the westbound tunnel will open up in early summer, there is no set date for the opening. That will depend on the safety inspections. Officials noted on May 31 that the new tunnel is structurally complete.

On Thursday, the first responders tested emergency communication plans, including emergency phones, heat detection, air quality sensors for poor visibility and hazardous gases, just to name a few.

“As soon as we put traffic in the tunnel, we’ve got to be able to respond in the event that someone breaks down, in the event that there’s an accident especially if there is an accident that results in a vehicle fire,” said Minnix.

According to ERC, the new Midtown Tunnel is designed and constructed using updated roadway tunnel standards as well as current fire protection and fire life safety requirements. As a result, many of the new Midtown Tunnel’s emergency response system features are unique from those of all other Hampton Roads tunnels.

“The fire and light safety systems in the new tunnel are different than the existing tunnels in the Hampton Roads. Because of that, we want to get the first responders in, make sure they are familiar with the equipment that they’ll be accessing,” said Minnix.

A proactive approach to systems introduction and training for first responders is critical to providing efficient emergency response.

Stay with WAVY News 10 for continuing coverage of the new Midtown Tunnel project.

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