Historic Blue Ridge Tunnel Dedicated Following Multiyear Restoration

The Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark beneath Rockfish Gap, Va., was recently dedicated after 18 years of planning and restoration. The Blue Ridge Tunnel was known as the longest railroad tunnel in North America when it was completed in 1858. The nearly mile-long route through Afton Mountain now offers 6,000 linear feet of pedestrian trails that connect to existing trail systems in central Virginia and is supported by two parking lots and educational signage.

Woolpert joined the $4 million historic preservation project in 2006. The architecture, engineering and geospatial firm was contracted by Nelson County, Va., to provide master planning, construction plans and topographic survey for the design of the trail and for the restoration of the entry portals, liner and rock walls of the tunnel. The firm provided additional support through three phases, helping identify and prepare grant applications; assisting with bidding, contractor selection and construction administration; and managing environmental and cultural resource documentation and structural analyses for the 162-year-old site.

Andrew Pack, Woolpert vice president and market director, said the tunnel is located 500 feet beneath the Rockfish Gap ridge in the state’s famed Blue Ridge Mountains. It is 16 feet wide and 20 feet high, with exposed rock lining most of the walls and ceiling. Pack said the project was designed to showcase the region, its history and its amenities, while driving tourism for Nelson and Augusta counties.

“This has been such a cool project to be a part of, especially from a landscape architecture and civil engineering perspective,” Pack said. “The topography is both beautiful and challenging, making it an ideal outdoor recreation destination. The site is also incredibly rich in history—it’s as if you have gone back in time.”

According to the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation, Crozet was a French engineer who served as an artillery officer under Napoleon. After coming to America, he taught engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was a founder of the Virginia Military Institute and served as Virginia’s chief engineer. Crozet was hired to build the Blue Ridge Railroad in 1849, and the tunnel opened in 1858.
The restoration of the tunnel was recognized in October by the Coalition for Recreational Trails, with an award for its Construction and Design. In 2015, the project also earned the Central Virginia Chapter of WTS International’s Innovative Transportation Solutions Award.

The tunnel was dedicated by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in September. The tunnel and trails remain an active construction site. The Blue Ridge Tunnel is scheduled to open to the public at the end of 2020.

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