UPDATE: Whittier Tunnel closed indefinitely after rock fall

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PORTAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - UPDATE WEDNESDAY, 1 P.M.:

Inside the Whittier Tunnel. Photo from State of Alaska.

Transportation officials are hoping to temporarily reopen the Whittier Tunnel on Wednesday so that those stuck on either side have an opportunity to get through before the repairs resume.

An exact time for the brief reopening has not been set but officials are hoping to provide safe escort in and out of Whittier between 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, according to a tweet by the Alaska Department of Transportation.

A DOT geologist recommended removal of the loose rock and “additional stabilization of the remaining rock in the area where the hazard exists”, the department wrote in a Wednesday press release. A company called Advanced Blasting has been contracted to install rock bolts and high-tension mesh in the hazard area.

“The contractor will be on site today to begin stabilization work immediately. Once stabilization work is complete, the department will escort one-lane of traffic through the tunnel, both in and out of Whittier," DOT wrote.

The tunnel is expected to remain closed through at least Thursday. However, it’s unknown when the tunnel will reopen to routine traffic, DOT said.

UPDATE WEDNESDAY, 7:20 A.M.:

The Whittier Tunnel remained closed on Wednesday morning following the discovery of a rock slide inside the tunnel. Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the tunnel will be closed indefinitely as officials continue evaluating the damage and hazards posed by the rock fall.

Woodrow says officials will be updating the tunnel’s online schedule to reflect the closure.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Falling rocks forced the closure of the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, also known as the Whittier Tunnel.

The tunnel shut down at 1 p.m. on Tuesday "due to a rock fall hazard inside the tunnel," according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

A handful of of Whittier residents waited at the gate through the afternoon, with a message that read “short delay due to maintenance in the tunnel.” Around 5 p.m, the electronic message changed to “closed indefinitely.”

Workers removed the fallen rock and a state geologist evaluated the scene. That’s when tunnel facilities manager Gordon Burton decided to call in a contractor to begin repair work.

“The equipment operator noticed what looks to be a three inch crack going up and on both sides of this rock,” said Burton “It kind of curves around the top of this rock.”

The rock fall was discovered Monday evening by a tunnel worker. No one was injured, according to state transportation officials. The tunnel, which connects Whittier with the Seward Highway, opened at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, according to spokesman Jeremy Woodrow, but no longer allowing cars or trains through.

“The rest of the night it's closed. It could be closed tomorrow, could be closed the next day,” said Burton. “The most important thing is public safety.”

"There is still an existing potential for more rock to come down," Woodrow said.

Many residents waiting to get home to Whittier said they would have to find a hotel for the night and try to pass through the following day.



 
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