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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.

 Participate in the Tunnel Challenge
The West Rock Tunnel presents the opportunity to challenge yourself with a unique car game that I call the Tunnel Challenge. When driving through the tunnel, someone listening to satellite or broadcast radio most likely loses the signal about halfway through the tunnel. The signal will then reconnect upon exiting the tunnel. This means there is about an 8 to 10 second period during which the music is replaced by static or silence.
       Here's how the challenge works. The necessary ingredient is a song playing on the radio with words that you know by heart. Sing along to the song as you enter the tunnel. Keep singing when the song changes to static or silence. Then when the signal reconnects see if you are matching the words of the lead singer.
If you match exactly then you have succeeded at the challenge. If you are off then you will need to practice on whatever song is on the radio the next time you travel through the tunnel.
Of course, there is no challenge if you're listening to a compact disc or music from your phone that is naturally not signal based and will not be interrupted. 

DOT Presents Information on Tunnel Project
The Conn. Department of Transportation (DOT) has conducted three public meetings regarding the planned reconstruction of the West Rock Tunnel, officially known as Heroes Tunnel.
The first meeting took place Sept. 22, 2016 at the Woodbridge Senior Center. The second meeting took place June 7, 2017 at the City of Haven, Hall of Records. The third meeting took place Oct. 18 at Hamden Memorial Town Hall. About 60 people attended each meeting, most of whom appeared to represent a government agency, or non-profit organization that have an interest in the project.
Unfortunately, the media basically ignored these meetings, other than the Woodbridge Town News,, so no widely circulated news story was written about what took place. This page reports the major findings of the three meetings.

The state DOT has a logo for the Heroes Tunnel Project.
Heroes Tunnel Project Website With Historic Documents
The DOT has launched a dedicated website for the project, which includes links to historical plans and photos, and the 434-page report discussing the tunnel and the options for the future. There is also a PDF copy of a PowerPoint that summarizes the major details of the project, plus minutes from the Hamden meeting. In addition, there is a link to the video from the Hamden meeting.
One interesting document on the DOT page is a 38-page typed report from 1950, giving facts, figures, and many historical photos of the tunnel construction. The document describes the various options that were considered and why the current design was the best choice and location for a tunnel. The document is titled "The West Rock Tunnel on the Wilbur  Cross Parkway, New Haven, 1948-1949" and was compiled by the Connecticut State Highway Department.
When I downloaded the PDF, I rotated the photo pages and the separate caption pages, changing the orientation from portrait to landscape, so the photos could be properly viewed. The photo pages appear to be an old-style black paper onto which the photos were glued. Link:
      The other historical document is 68 pages worth of engineering drawings for the tunnel. This would be of particular interest to engineers and architects. Link:

Public Meeting Information
 This information is a compilation of the presentations at the Woodbridge, New Haven, and Hamden locations. With these three public presentations complete, the state is continuing its design work. The next significant date in the project is fall 2018 when the draft of the environmental studies are expected to be complete, and spring 2020 when the preliminary design is complete.
Despite Gov. Dannel Malloy's statement in late 2017 that there is currently no money to fund construction, the planning work continues.
DOT Engineer and Project Manager David A. 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.
In responses to audience questions in Woodbridge, 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 tunnel is eligible for listing on the state and National Historic Registers.

The state has hired the engineering firm of CDM Smith to manage the project. CDM Smith is preparing an environmental impact assessment and evaluation, and will create a preliminary design of the preferred alternative for the tunnel updates.
CDM Smith wrote a report in Nov. 2014 with a Sept. 2016 supplement called "Rehabilitation of the Heroes (West Rock) Tunnel" with the subtitle "Heroes Tunnel Alternative Construction Options Study Final Report. This report is available on the tunnel website, and may be read in person at the DOT headquarters 2800 Berlin Turnpike, Newington, Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or may be downloaded from the state's tunnel website.
A 2010 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.

  Professional Engineer Mike Egan from CDM Smith is also a project manager. At the June 2017 meeting, which was billed as a "public information meeting," Egan said the 1,200 foot long tunnel, which carries 70,000 vehicles per day, does not meet modern design standards. The tunnel barrels are 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 with an 8-foot wide left shoulder and a 10-foot wide right shoulder. He said the tunnel requires a width of 50 feet for two lanes with shoulders and two 4 foot wide sidewalks (he called them "curbs") for emergency access.
The tunnel does not comply with tunnel standards and requirements with regard to geometrics, ventilation, and emergency systems, and has no fire safety system. The narrow shoulders make it difficult for emergency response providers.
Inspections have identified significant deterioration, including ground water infiltration in the walls and ceilings, resulting in stalactites with freeze/thaw conditions and falling icicles. The PowerPoint contains pictures of the tunnel walls and ceiling, showing metal rebar visible in areas where water infiltration has damaged the concrete, prompting the DOT to chip away 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. These maintenance issues are expected to only grow worse.

Tunnel Plans Options
Egan presented some highlights from the 2014/2016 report. Potential options that have been studied include the following:
  • Rehabilitate one tunnel by completely shutting down one barrel at time or doing a partial shutdown of one barrel.
  • Construct a new one-lane or a new two-lane tunnel (which are two separate options) and rehabilitating the existing tunnels
  • Enlarging the existing tunnels, while maintaining traffic flow using a protective shield
  • Construct a temporary bypass tunnel, then enlarging the existing tunnels
At the Hamden meeting, Egan said rehabilitating the existing tunnels is not a viable option because of the traffic implications resulting from having only one operational tunnel at a time. Solving the water problems would require installing a waterproof membrane with a new concrete liner connected to a drainage system to divert water away from the tunnel. This choice results in barrels would be even narrower due to the addition of the membrane. It would address existing problems with structural integrity and ground water infiltration. This project would cost about $20 million.
 At the Woodbridge meeting, Cutler commented on the rehabilitation option by saying, “The traffic backups are unacceptable. They are miles long. Or the detours through the city streets would overload the city streets." The potential economic impact to these backups is estimated at $700 million. At the New Haven meeting, Cutler said it was too early to say which option the DOT was considering because more work still needs to be done.
The reconstruction options would allow for continued traffic flow as construction is taking place. They would also result in a tunnel that would meet modern design standards. Any of these options have estimated costs of $200 million to $250 million.
At the Hamden meeting, Egan said the protective shield option has been used in Europe, usually on rail tunnels. Due to its complexity, risk, and traffic impact, he did not think this was a valid option for this project. For the West Rock tunnel, it would require narrowing the tunnel to one lane during construction, which would result in traffic backups.
Egan said if the state blasted a new tunnel, it would have to meet modern design standards. He said the tunnel could be built with a curve to avoid impacting the DOT maintenance facility on Pond Lily Avenue in New Haven, and the West Rock Nature Center on Wintergreen Avenue.
"There will be very little to no impacts to the West Rock Nature Center," said Egan. 
Someone asked in Hamden if there were plans for a sound barrier by the West Rock Nature Center, and Sousa said this has not been investigated.
Another person asked if the state built a temporary bypass tunnel, which would be abandoned when the improved tunnels are opened, could that tunnel then be used for recreation? Sousa said at the Hamden meeting that he has been asked this before and will take a look at it.
Earlier in the Hamden meeting, Sousa said, "Protecting resources is of the utmost concern with the Department of Transportation, particularly park land."

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 in Woodbridge.
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.
Jafari said total construction time for widening the tunnels would be a 53 month project. It would require 24 months to construct a new tunnel. According to Jafari, the wider barrels would need to be much taller to create the arch needed to support the rock above them. As seen in the schematic (pictured below), they would be nearly as tall as the existing rock face.
At the Woodbridge meeting, 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.
    Several people asked at the Hamden meeting if the state could build a temporary or permanent bypass of the tunnel over the top of the ridge. Due to the steep slopes, this is not a viable option, or one the state is even considering.
    Another question in Hamden was whether the state could construct one large tunnel. Mahmood Khwaja, an engineer from CDM Smith, said two tunnels are needed for fire safety reasons, and there is typically not two way traffic in a tunnel. Federal law requires an evacuation route every 500 feet, and the typical route would be through the adjacent tunnel. He said it is difficult to escape vertically.

    A topographical survey and an endangered species survey have taken place, and an archaeological survey started in fall 2017. In the following 18 months (from June 2017), plans included work to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) . This includes an environmental assessment and an environmental impact evaluation. By fall 2019, Cutler predicted the preliminary design would be complete, with a final design by fall 2021, and construction starting in spring 2022.
Graphic showing a proposed design for wider barrels.
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.
At all three  meetings, 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 in New Haven, the DOT “would use the best construction practices” and would look at this during the environmental review and design.
In New Haven, 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 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).
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,
In New Haven, Cutler said he did not anticipate any impacts to the state 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 Sept. 2016 meeting video lasting 1 hour and 20 minutes may be watched on Woodbridge Government Access Television. This video also includes information about the Exit 59 plans that I did not include in this article. Some of the details have changed since that meeting, but most information is current. Video link at

An accident in the southbound tube of the West Rock Tunnel backs up traffic heading northbound in April 2017. Wider barrels would allow for easier access by emergency vehicles.

My Opinion: Widen in Place

I expressed my concerns to the DOT regarding 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. Gov. Dannel Malloy has been pushing this option.
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.
I imagine the one barrel could be closed during off peak hours to speed up the work process. 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. Once one barrel is widened, the contractor could take as long as needed to widen the other barrel, since the enlarged barrel could handle two lanes of traffic in each direction.
Widening the tunnel to modern standards with breakdown lanes, adding safety sidewalk on both sides makes sense so that further traffic disruption is not needed at some point in the future. The safety lanes could be used as as a drive lane when traffic needs to be to shifted traffic for maintenance, or an accident.

Potential Impacts on West Rock Ridge State Park
I submitted this written feedback to the DOT:
 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.

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

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.
  • 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. A close up photos of two plaques are available in the design documents on the project website.
  • 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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  2. The problem with not blasting a third tunnel is that routing all the traffic through 2 lanes for 2+ years will turn a nightmarish road into living hell. Detours are problematic. CT-10 is jammed all the time as it is. 91/95 will become an issue when 15 is not a viable alternative between Meriden and Milford. When one of those two options gets blocked, the other tends to see heavy detour traffic, especially with a great deal of traffic bring automatically routed by GPS with live traffic data. If that stretch of 15 is restricted for an extended period of time, there will be serious problems all over.