VDOT says testing of fire system inside HRBT led to ‘wall of water’ from tunnel ceiling

Posted at 5:39 PM, Nov 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-29 09:28:46-05

It’s frightening to see--water pouring through a tunnel ceiling, not knowing where it is coming from or if it could lead to danger.

A startling photo was snapped yesterday inside the eastbound tube of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

But according to VDOT, the water leak never put driver safety at risk.

They tell NewsChannel 3 a VDOT contractor was performing a routine fire system check on the tunnel fans, and inadvertently activated a deluge valve that should only be turned on in the event of a fire.

They say the system worked exactly as it`s designed to, leading to the fresh water pouring out of the tunnel ceiling.

Since crews were right there, the valve was quickly turned off, and all the water drained out of the tunnel properly.

VDOT stressed to NewsChannel 3 there were never any cracks in the exterior of the tunnel, and never any water from the bay pouring in.

It's not the first time the tunnel's fire suppression systems have caused problems.

In 2009, a pipe burst underneath the HRBT's roadway surface and flooded the tunnel, because some of the pumps and water sensors were not working.

A NewsChannel 3 investigation later showed that it was all due to negligence, after VDOT workers did not perform mandatory checks.

In yesterday's case, VDOT says lessons learned from that 2009 flooding helped them to react quickly, but they acknowledge that seeing the wall of water might have scared some drivers.

That`s why VDOT will be performing a detailed review.

They want to know how the deluge valve was activated in the first place, and how to make sure further testing on the fire system doesn't lead to yet another waterfall right in front of drivers.