The Callahan Tunnel will be shut down tonight to allow for the inspection of all 2,800 wall panels, after one of them fell into the roadway Friday night and tied up traffic for several hours, a state transportation official said.
“We’ll physically yank on every panel,” said Frank DePaola, Massachusetts Department of Transportation highway administrator. “We apologize for this inconvenience for people who are traveling to the airport.”
The tunnel will be closed from 9 p.m. tonight until 5 a.m. Monday. Motorists driving to Logan Airport are advised to use the Ted Williams Tunnel or the Tobin Bridge, which will be fully open, DePaola said.
Closing the tunnel two days before Christmas is not ideal, but is necessary to ensure public safety, DePaola said.
“If we find any wall panels that are appear to be loose, or in danger of becoming loose, we will remove them, so that there is no concern about them unexpectedly falling into the roadway,” DePaola said at a press conference Saturday afternoon.
Four sheet-metal panels were removed on Friday after one fell onto the road at about 6 p.m. An adjacent panel was hanging by a fastener, and two adjacent panels were removed as a precaution, DePaola said.
The panels most likely became loose because their metal fasteners are rotting.
The panels, 4 feet by 9 feet and weighing about 100 pounds, were installed about 1990. Because of their age, the tunnel is inspected once every three months, DePaola said.
The panel that fell into the roadway did not hit any vehicles or injure anyone. Still, loose panels pose a threat to public safety, he added.
“Obviously, something that large would have distracted the driver and likely would have led to an auto accident, which we don’t want to happen,” he said.
All 2,800 panels will be replaced in early 2014, when the 1950s-era tunnel is due for a $10 million to $12 million refurbishment, DePaola said.