Mountain laurel in bloom

Mountain laurel in bloom
Mountain laurel is in bloom at West Rock, as seen on the Gold Trail.

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West Rock Tunnel (Heroes Tunnel)

The West Rock Tunnel as seen from the Woodbridge side on Rt. 15 North on a foggy August day in 2014. Imagine a third tunnel blasted through the ridge.

DOT Seeks Public Input on Tunnel Project
The Conn. Department of Transportation (DOT) conducted a public meeting on Sept. 22 at the Woodbridge Senior Center, regarding the planned reconstruction of the West Rock Tunnel, officially known as Heroes Tunnel. About 60 people attended the meeting.
DOT Engineer David A. Cutler, who is the project manager, called the Sept. 22 event a “public scoping meeting,” saying this was the first of many meetings that will take place during the design phase. Other meetings are planned for Hamden and New Haven, although no dates have been announced. Cutler said this scoping meeting is required to gather information as part of the environmental review. He said the preliminary design for the project has not started.
Cutler said the project is necessary to correct deficiencies within the tunnel. He said the tunnel condition is rated as “poor,” which he said does not represent an imminent safety issue, but means it has been identified for repairs before a serious condition develops.
Mark Alexander, DOT assistant planning director, said the DOT has retained CDM Smith, a design consulting engineering firm with offices in New Haven. CDM Smith is preparing an environmental impact assessment and evaluation, and will create a preliminary design of the preferred alternative for the tunnel updates.
Principal/Project Manager, Joe Balskus from CDM Smith, presented facts about the tunnel, which he said is eligible for listing on the state and National Historic Registers. The tunnels carry 70,000 vehicles per day.
Balskus said that the tunnel barrels are 1,200 feet long, and 28 feet wide with 11-foot wide shoulders, and 6-inch wide shoulders. The safety walks along the side are 2.5 feet wide. Standards require 12-foot wide lanes and 8-foot wide shoulders. He said the tunnel requires a width of 50 feet for two lanes with shoulders. The tunnel does not comply with tunnel standards and requirements with regard to geometrics, ventilation, and emergency systems, and has no fire safety system.
Inspections have identified significant deterioration, including ground water infiltration in the walls and ceilings, resulting in stalagmites with freeze/thaw conditions and falling icicles. Balskus showed pictures of the tunnel walls and ceiling where rebar is visible in areas where water infiltration has damaged the concrete, prompting the DOT to remove the damaged concrete. Water also flows through construction joints in the ceiling and down through the ventilation shaft. Frequent maintenance requires tunnel closures and shifting traffic to the other barrel, mostly at night. Balskus said these maintenance issues would only grow worse.
Balskus presented some highlights from a 2016 report prepared by CDM called “Alternative Study of Rehabilitation Options for Heroes Tunnel: A New Approach,” written by Larry Murphy, a principal with CDM. Potential options that have been studied include a new one-lane or a new two-lane tunnel, widening the existing tunnel, closing one tunnel, close one lane in the existing tunnel, or construction of a bypass tunnel.
In responses to audience questions, Cutler said the steel tunnel liner is in good shape. He said the tunnel is safe, although there is deteriorated concrete. Paying for the updated tunnel would involve 80 percent federal funding with a 20 percent state match.
The traffic implications of either working on half the tunnel at a time or closing one barrel and routing traffic through the other one would result in heavy traffic. “The traffic backups are unacceptable. They are miles long. Or the detours through the city streets would overload the city streets,” said Cutler.
The DOT has ruled out the use of tunnel boring machines because these tunnels are too short for cost-effective use of these machines, which are 300 feet long. Such machines are not cost effective for tunnels shorter than 1 mile. “The most effective way is to drill holes and blast the rock,” said Culter.
Mohammed Jafari, a tunnel engineer with CDM Smith, said if blasting is used and crews work for 12 hours per day, they would blast a depth of 10 feet of rock to the full width of the tunnel. He said a faster alternative method could be used, but they first need to know the strength of the rock in the ridge.
A woman expressed concern about the effect of blasting on homes. She said when the original tunnel was constructed, the noise was unbearable with blasting throughout the night.
Jafari said modern blasting is very different and is done with minimal vibrations and noise.
“There will be no explosions during the night and during the day, you won’t feel anything,” said Jafari. He said the service life would be built for 120 years.
Jafari said the tunnel was not built with a liner, so the rocks and the water in the rocks are in direct contact with the concrete. Since concrete is porous, the water can move through the concrete.

State Catalogs Environmental Resources
The area’s existing environmental resources include forested woodlands at West Rock Ridge State Park north of the tunnel, a natural diversity area south of the tunnel, and Wintergreen Brook northeast of the tunnel.
The study will examine environmental impacts of the various construction options, including at West Rock Ridge State Park and the West Rock Nature Center. They look at effects to air and water quality, noise, cultural and archaeological resources, recreational resources, natural communities, including protected animal and plant species and their habitats, aesthetics and traffic.
Frank DeLeo, a member of the West River Restoration Coalition and the West Rock Ridge Advisory Council, said the DOT needed to add the West River to its list of environmental resources. DeLeo expressed concern about environmental impacts of construction on the West River. He said there is a drainage pipe from the top of the tunnel that he said is filled with debris, and gets clogged from run-off and he said the overflow from the parkway, ends up in the West River. He said this contributes to flooding and pollution of the river.
Cutler said the DOT “would use the best construction practices” and would look at this during the environmental review and design.
David Sousa, CDM Public Outreach, said the public involvement process would be taking place for as long as 18 months. He said the DOT will be reaching out to the public, including having a Community Advisory Committee, and identifying and engaging stakeholders (people who have specific interests and information). The DOT will develop a project website and use social media, and e-mail bulletins to interested citizens and community groups. There will be a variety of meetings, including outreach events, such as a making a presentation as a festival or farmers market, informational meetings or open houses, and formal public meetings.
Potential stakeholders includes these categories with some examples from each listed: large employers (Southern Connecticut State University, Yale University and others), governmental (elected officials, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, South Central Regional Council of Governments, non-profit organizations (AAA of Southern New England, Conn. Fund for the Environment, New Haven Urban Design League), municipalities (Woodbridge, Hamden, and New Haven), and transit providers (Conn. Transit and Greater New Haven Transit).
Cutler said the next step would be an archaeological survey, along with borings, and a ground survey in the next six to nine months. Following that would be completion of the environmental impact documents, which would take 18-24 months. Completing the preliminary design to work on preferred alternatives would be the next step after the environmental process.
The scoping process comment period for the environmental phase ended Oct. 7, 2016. Project comments throughout the period may be made to: David A. Cutler, P.E., Project Manager, Conn. DOT, 2800 Berlin Tpke., Newington, CT 06131. (860) 594-3210,
Cutler said he did not anticipate any impacts to the park, including Baldwin Drive, and the trails the cross over the tunnel. He said, “Whatever we are doing will mostly be below grade and will not encroach on the facilities.”
There were also questions regarding the reconstruction of Exit 59, which are has two plans: a short term and a long-term project designed to improve traffic flow throughout the area. State officials said these projects are independent of the tunnel project.
The meeting video lasting 1 hour and 20 minutes may be watched on Woodbridge Government Access Television at
The DOT press release on the meeting may be read at
The DOT plans to upload a copy of the presentation (but had not as of Oct. 16), to

Snow covers the top of the West Rock Tunnel in February 2015.

I submitted this written feedback to the DOT:
I am concerned about the proposed plan to blast a third tunnel through West Rock, in relation to the environmental consequences, unnecessary cost, and time required to do this work.
I am not an engineer, but I would like serious consideration given to the idea of widening the tunnels in place, working in off peak hours over time. The part that I do not know is whether the work could be done in off peak hours to blast and remove rock and then reopen a particular tunnel during peak hours to allow for free flowing traffic. This work could be done in conjunction with signage to direct motorists heading north from New York to Hartford to take either I-95 or I-84, shifting to traffic to roads that are admittedly overburdened.
Widening the tunnel to three lanes, plus a shoulder and safety walk on both sides probably makes sense so that further traffic disruption is not needed at some point in the future. This way each barrel would have an extra lane, plus other space available to shift traffic around for maintenance purposes.

Potential Impacts on West Rock Ridge State Park
The tunnel cuts under West Rock Ridge State Park, which is the second largest state park by acreage. The tunnel is crossed three times by Baldwin Drive, a historic road built in the 1930s as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps. This road is needed by the DEEP for maintenance and emergency access to the northern two thirds of the park.
On the northern side of the tunnel, Baldwin Drive is almost at the edge of the tunnel, ranging in distance from the tunnel’s face from 120 feet away to just 15 feet away.
There are two groups of antennas on the ridge, one just north of the tunnel (about 150 feet north of the ventilation tower), and the other is 0.32 miles north of the tunnel. Maintenance crews use Baldwin Drive for access to these antennas. The northern end of Baldwin Drive is blocked by rocks and if this southern access is disrupted by tunnel work, the DEEP would need to reopen that northern entrance to the road.

About 0.10 miles north of the tunnel is a historic airway beacon:

Three hiking trails cross or pass near the tunnel.
The Regicides Trail is a 6.8-mile long Blue-Blazed Trail maintained by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. The trail runs along the western edge of West Rock Ridge from the South Overlook to its junction with the Quinnipiac Trail at York Mountain. The Regicides Trail was laid out in 1937.
This video features the Regicides Trail:
The Green Trail connects the main entrance of West Rock on Wintergreen Avenue to Judges Cave and crosses over the Regicides Trail just south of the tunnel in an area likely to be above a future tunnel expansion.
The Red Trail is a 6.8-mile trail that runs the length of the park from the South Overlook to an overlook of Farm Brook Reservoir. The Red Trail follows Baldwin Drive from a curve just north of the tunnel down to the park’s main entrance on Wintergreen Avenue. The trail passes over the section of Baldwin Drive that is near the tunnel’s face on the northern side, passing as close as within 15 feet to 120 feet, as noted above.

There is a pair of nesting and breeding Peregrine falcons on the ridge near Konolds Pond, which is about 0.55 miles north of the tunnel.

Lake Wintergreen is a 44-acre lake created by a dam about half mile north of the tunnel. Any work should be planned to not affect the integrity of the dam.

The Long Island Sound Study has identified West Rock Ridge as an important stewardship site:

Dr. Cosimo Sgarlata, an archeology professor at Western Connecticut State University, published his doctoral thesis based on the study of Native Americans using the top of the tunnel area as a hunting ground. He has found numerous arrowheads in this area, and should certainly be contacted a resource for a study of this area.

I will leave it to the New Haven Parks Department to speak to the effects of the tunnel work on the West Rock Nature Center.

Tunnel Trivia:
Doris Day made a movie in 1958 entitled “The Tunnel of Love.” In the opening credits, Doris is a passenger in a car driven by actor Richard Widmark that passes through as the song “Have Lips, Will Kiss in the Tunnel of Love” sung by Doris plays along with the opening credits.

The ventilation shaft for the West Rock Tunnel pokes up through the trees alongside the Regicides Trail in Nov. 2012.

Why Blasting a Third West Rock Tunnel (Heroes Tunnel) Is a Bad Idea

I wrote this article in 2015 when the DOT announced its original plans for the tunnel renovation.

The West Rock Tunnel (Heroes Tunnel) is a Connecticut landmark of historical significance. When the tunnels opened in 1949, they created a direct connection from Greenwich to Hartford along Route 15.
     The state has bonded $2 million to complete a study to move forward a plan to rehabilitate the West Rock Tunnels and has said the study will focus on blasting a third tunnel under West Rock, rehabilitating one tunnel, and leaving the other existing tunnel in a state of decay.
       Blasting a third tunnel is a bad idea for many reasons. The better solution would be to repair the existing tunnels in place.
(Revisions: Oct. 2016: The existing tunnels should be widened to meet modern design standards, including two 12-foot travel lanes, 2 8-foot wide shoulders, and 2 5-foot wide sidewalks. (The DOT should even consider widening the tunnel to three lanes to provide flexibility for traffic flow in case of maintenance and accidents.)
      The tunnels were constructed from 1948 to 1949 and opened in 1949, meaning the original design has lasted nearly 70 years. The main problem is that water infiltration is damaging the concrete, which is breaking apart and needs repair. A 2010 study offered three options for rehabilitation, recommending installing a drainage system to direct groundwater away from the concrete liner, installing a waterproof liner, and replacing the concrete facing of the tunnel.
        The report entitled “Inspection and Rehabilitation of Heroes Highway Tunnel in Connecticut” by Mohammad R. Jafari, Larry Murphy, and Michael Gilbert, engineers for Camp Dresser and McKee, Cambridge, Mass. (now CDM Smith) may be read at this website in the book North American Tunnelings 2010 Proceedings: The report may be read on pages 257-266 of the online book.

These are the problems with blasting a third tunnel:
  • The estimated cost is $200 million, an expense the state cannot afford, and even if it could, this money would be better spent elsewhere. Cost overruns are always a factor. The original estimated cost to replace the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge and completed related roadway improvements was $800 million and the final cost is expected to exceed $2 billion.
  • The existing tunnels are perfectly aligned with the Wilbur Cross Parkway. Installing a tunnel to one side would add a curve to the road and would require constructing another bridge over Wintergreen Avenue, which is just north of the parkway. Another tunnel could cause even more difficulties to the existing ramps at Exit 59, just south of the parkway, by shortening their length.
  • The new tunnel would require installing a second ventilation shaft. Since the new tunnel would be dug under rock that rises higher than the existing area, the new shaft would have to be drilled deeper than the current one.
  • West Rock is a 200 million year old trap rock ridge, one of the many significant trap rock ridges that are an important geological feature in Connecticut. Blasting another tunnel through the ridge would further impact this important feature.
  • Creating a new tunnel would require about a year’s time, based on the time frame of the previous construction. The blasting might potentially compromise the integrity of the existing tunnels, which we know already have failing concrete liners.  Some of that blasting would probably require temporary tunnel closures, which is the exact problem the state is seeking to avoid.
  • The trucks hauling rocks away from the blasted tunnel would place an additional burden on already crowded area roads.
        I am not an engineer, but I would think that if the state is working with concrete, it could work on a section of the tunnel at a time. The state repaired and replaced various Merritt Parkway concrete bridges in place, work that has been done at night and during other off-peak times.
        The state could lessen the traffic impact of repairing the existing tunnels by doing this work at night, and during selective weekends during less traveled times of the year, probably winter. As part of the shutdowns of one tunnel, the state could direct cars heading across the state to use alternate routes. Cars traveling from New York to Hartford could take I-95 to I-91 to bypass the tunnel.

Blast Away the Ridge?
        Some people have made comments in public forums that the state should simply blast away the ridge and entirely remove the need for a tunnel. This is the worst idea of all for many reasons. The state is not considering this idea at all.
        The state built the tunnel back in the 1940s because it was easier and cheaper than blasting away all that rock. If the state actually planned to remove all that rock today, it would surely have to close the parkway for the duration of the project, which could take months or years, as it would be unsafe to have people driving through the tunnel with blasting taking place on top.
        The tunnel report, as printed in the book North American Tunnelings 2010 Proceedings has a cross-section of the tunnel on page 259. This cross section shows that the tunnel and at its highest point, there is 200 feet of rock above the tunnel.
         Using the formula for the volume of a rectangular prism, estimating the width of the blasting at 120 feet (to give room for rocks to fall and not on the parkway), a length of 1,300 feet, and a peak height of 200 feet, yields 5.2 million cubic yards of rock. A large dump truck can hold 18 cubic yards of gravel. Removing the rock from blasting would require about 290,000 truck trips with the additional challenge of where such a large amount of rock would be moved in a short time.
       Removal of all that rock would cut the park in half, requiring a potential bridge to replace the missing section of Baldwin Drive, the Regicides Trail, the Green Trail and the Red Trail, all of which cross the top of the tunnel. Road access is needed because contractors require regular access to service the three antennas located just north of the tunnel.

       After reviewing all the options, the safest, quickest and lowest-cost option is to rehabilitate the tunnels in place, preserving their historic significance, while restoring them to good working order. I definitely favor the idea of widening each tunnel to three lanes to provide a breakdown lane to smooth traffic flow.

The tunnel on Route 15 northbound has a definite uphill slope
in this view from August, 2015.
Links about the West Rock Tunnel (Heroes Tunnel)

  • "Inspection and Rehabilitation of Heroes Highway Tunnel in Connecticut" by Mohammad R. Jafari, Larry Murphy, and Michael Gilbert, engineers for Camp Dresser and McKee, Cambridge, Mass. (now CDM Smith) was published in North American Tunneling 2010 Proceedings.
  • The article discusses the cracking caused by water seepage into the tunnel and makes three recommendations for rehabilitation. The article also quotes Department of Transportation officials as saying the exhaust fans for the tunnel are turned off because there was continuing problem with the fans being damaged by ice falling into the shaft.
  • This book is a collection of inspection reports on tunnels, including the one that passes under West Rock. The West Rock article may be read online for free at It is found on pages 257-266 of the online book, which is not available as a download, but may be purchased for $156. The easiest way to reach the West Rock section is to type "West Rock" into the search box on the left side and then click on page 257 when appears after the search.
  • Tunnel facts from the article: The tunnels are 28 feet wide and 19 feet tall, and are about one quarter mile long.
  • The West Rock Tunnel is one of 50 entries in the book Connecticut Icons: Symbols of the Nutmeg State by Charles Monagan, published in 2007 by Insiders Guide®, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press. Monagan was editor of Connecticut magazine for 24 years, retiring in 2013. This book is an interesting compilation of what he feels are 50 symbols of Connecticut. He presents them as a series of individual essays, most of which previously appeared in the magazine. The West Rock Tunnel entry appears on pages 84-85. The photo for the West Rock Tunnel is a historic image of the tunnel being built. His discussion includes the reason why the tunnel was the best choice, as compared to choosing a route that swung around the ridge. Tunnel facts he provides: the tunnels are 1,200 feet long, 28 feet wide, and 18.5 feet high. Construction began on March 10, 1948. The shafts were open end to end on Nov. 8, 1948. The tunnel opened about a year later. An online preview of the book (but not the West Rock essay) is available at
  • According to the New York Times, the tunnel was renamed in 2003 as Heroes Tunnel due to legislation introduced by Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby. The idea came from resident Ed Walsh of Woodbridge who suggested the name change to honor heroes of all kinds. "A Road By Any Other Name..." written by Betsy Whittmann discussed various highways and bridges named in honor of people. The name change for the tunnel was mentioned on page 2 of the article:
  • The legislation to change the name was passed on May 30, 2003 to rename the tunnel as Hero's Tunnel, and signed by the governor on June 18, 2003, according to the General Assembly website at this link:
  • The name was updated and corrected to Heroes Tunnel when the bill passed the General Assembly on May 10, 2004, and was signed by the governor on May 21, 2004. The name change took effect July 1, 2004, as part of Public Act 04-143, according to the state website at On a grammar basis, Hero's Tunnel means one hero and he or she owns it. Heroes Tunnel is a general naming of the tunnel in honor of various heroes.
The sign outside the tunnel has a grammatical error. The word Heroes should not have an apostrophe because the tunnel is named after the heroes. They do not own it.
  • According to the Conn. Department of Transportation, a total of 69,900 cars pass through the tunnel on a daily basis. The DOT did traffic counts in Aug./Sept. 2012. The DOT counted 34,100 vehicles headed south and 35,800 headed north on the Wilbur Cross Parkway. This means that 25,513,000 vehicles pass under West Rock Ridge on a yearly basis, clearly making West Rock Ridge the most visited park in Connecticut! Of course, most only stay for about 25 seconds if they are driving at 60 miles per hour. The traffic counts may be seen at this website:
  • Traveling the Merritt Parkway, preview at, and Route 15: The Road to Hartford, preview at both written by Larry Larned and published in 1998 and 2002 respectively by Arcadia Publishing, Charleston South Carolina. The Merritt Parkway book gives a brief mention to the West Rock Tunnel as part of a short section on the Wilbur Cross Parkway. Larned gives a more extensive treatment of the tunnel in the Route 15 book, showing construction pictures on pages 30 to 33.
  • On page 34 in the book, there is a movie poster from the 1958 Doris Day movie The Tunnel of Love, which is named after the West Rock Tunnel, but is mostly set in Westport.
The Tunnel of Love
  • In the opening credits of the movie The Tunnel of Love, Doris Day sings the song "Have Lips, Will Kiss in the Tunnel of Love" as she and Richard Widmark drive through the southbound West Rock Tunnel in a convertible. Watch the opening at or at the website Doris Day Magic at Scroll down to the bottom to the section "Movie/Song Clips" and the opening credits with the song is the top left.

Most pictures of the tunnel show it from Rt. 15 Northbound, probably because the tunnel is visible from about 1.4 miles away, as motorists crest the hill near Rt. 243 (Fountain Street). From Rt. 15 Southbound, the tunnel appears suddenly as motorists cross the top of the hill near Wintergreen Avenue about 0.2 miles away.

Richard Widmark and Doris Day cross the bridge over Wintergreen Avenue in the opening to the movie The Tunnel of Love, as they approach the West Rock Tunnel on Route 15 southbound. Image copyright by Turner Classic Movies. 

The West Rock Tunnel comes up quickly on Rt. 15 south in Hamden
 in this view seen in June 2015, just before the Wintergreen Avenue bridge.

Traffic slows as it approaches the southbound tunnel
on Route 15 in August 2015.
The opening credits of the movie The Tunnel of Love.
Image copyright by Turner Classic Movies.

There is light at the end of the tunnel in this view toward New Haven from inside the southbound tunnel in August, 2015.
Farmland in Woodbridge on the north side of Route 15 can be seen
in this view from the opening credits of the movie The Tunnel of Love.
Image copyright by Turner Classic Movies.
Farmland in Woodbridge on the north side of Route 15 can be seen
in this view from the opening credits of the movie The Tunnel of Love.
Image copyright by Turner Classic Movies.

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