01:45 PM - 02:45 PM
6 October 2021

Blue Ridge Tunnel: From Epidemic to Pandemic

History & Heritage

This presentation will discuss the engineering achievements of Claudius Crozet and specifically focus on the Blue Ridge Tunnel, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The tunnel was completed in 1858, was 4,237 feet in length, and was the longest mountain tunnel in the world at that time. The tunnel became a key infrastructure component for Virginia and would eventually become a gateway between Chicago and the ports of Virginia 50 years later. Tunneling operations were started simultaneously from opposite ends and completed only 6 inches off center. By comparison, a replacement tunnel constructed in 1944 was 4 feet off in alignment. Water drainage, rock quality, and slope stability issues were some of the many challenges that Mr. Crozet had to remediate prior to and during construction. In addition, innovative projects have a high risk of cost overruns and delays and the Blue Ridge Tunnel incurred both. The significance of labor disputes, job site fatalities, and epidemics and their impact on construction costs and schedule will also be discussed. But once completed, the tunnel provided over 80 years of service and return on investment. In November 2020, the restored tunnel was opened to the public as part of a rails to trails project. Despite the current pandemic, the tunnel was averaging 700 visitors a day and once again generating a rate of return for the local economy. Lastly, the presentation will provide a brief biography of Claudius Crozet and discuss his legacy and impacts in regards to engineering education.

Learning Objectives:

  • Examine who Claudius Crozet was and his impact on civil engineering and engineering education.
  • Explain the impact that slave and immigrant labor had on an civil infrastructure project vital to the economy of Virginia, and analyze the effects of job site and epidemic fatalities on the construction schedule.
  • Recognize the impact of construction constraints of 1850s with those common in present day.