DINGESS — It is safe to say, the Historic Dingess Tunnel has never looked better in its 127-year history.
The one-lane, 3,327-foot tunnel was recently reopened to traffic after a several-month rehabilitation project by the West Virginia Division of Highways that totaled more than $5.5 million, according to West Virginia Department of Transportation District 2 District Manager Scott Eplin.
The project consisted of rehabilitating the tunnel by replacing the steel liner and replace or repoint loose or missing bricks. LED lighting with vandal shields was also installed inside the tunnel. The lights are designed to operate with the daylight, as only some light up during the daytime compared to every light after dark.
Drainage above the northern end of the tunnel will now be intercepted by new concrete gutter that was constructed, and the road inside the tunnel was paved and yellow lines were painted on each side.
Also, new warning and guidance signs were installed outside the tunnel to warn motorists of the one-lane driving conditions inside the structure.
“This is a very historic structure, and any time you try to do an update or retro-fit something that dated, there is no way to match it exactly,” Eplin said. “But we are really pleased with how it turned out.”
Eplin said that they were lucky to get the funding for the project, and it helped that the tunnel was deemed a historic state landmark in 2015 by the West Virginia State Legislature.
The Dingess Action Committee held an official ribbon-cutting for the grand reopening of the tunnel Tuesday, Nov. 12, and West Virginia Sen. Ron Stollings (D-Boone) attended the event.
Johnny Nick Hager, president of the Dingess Action Committee, approached Stollings in April to see if he could assist in getting work done to the tunnel. Stollings, who is a native of nearby Madison, submitted the paperwork with the support of other senators and delegates, and work officially began on the tunnel in July.
“This goes to show what can happen when people collaborate and work together,” Stollings said at the ribbon-cutting as snow fell from the sky. “And particularly in Southern West Virginia, where we’ve been hit so hard by the downturn of the coal industry, we’ve got to work together.”
Dingess Action Committee Vice President Darin Baisden, East Fork Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Hall, members of the EFVFD and Dingess residents also attended.
According to the WV Encyclopedia, the Dingess Tunnel “was built for the original Twelvepole Creek route of the Norfolk & Western (now Norfolk Southern) Railroad in 1892. That route was the N&W main line between 1892 and 1904, when a new rail line opened on better grades along the Big Sandy River. The Twelvepole Creek route later was abandoned. The town of Dingess was a busy place while the Twelvepole line was in use, because goods shipped on the N&W were unloaded there and hauled to other towns in the area by wagonloads. In June 1905, two trains collided in the tunnel, and three people were killed. When the N&W changed its route, the Dingess Tunnel fell into disuse. Since 1913, the Dingess Tunnel has been used as a highway tunnel.”
The Dingess Tunnel has also been determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places for improving access and transportation in the region and its engineering significance, according to the WVDOT.