The Paw Paw Tunnel is currently open.
Phase 2 of construction for the interim slope stabilization at the north (downstream) portal of the Paw Paw Tunnel was completed in July 2019. The next phase of work is currently in design. A design–build contract is anticipated to be awarded in 2020 for this next phase of work. Once the design is completed and permitted, construction is anticipated to begin in early 2021.
Frequently Asked Questions
When will the project begin and end?
Construction for the interim slope stabilization at the north portal of the Paw Paw Tunnel began in June of 2017. Construction was expected to last through fall of 2017, but the timeline has been changed. Phase 1 of the project, which addressed the most urgent sections of the deteriorating rock slope, has been completed. In July 2019, the park completed Phase 2 to address additional hazards downstream of the newly completed section. The 2020 work, which is in the design phase, will continue with addressing rockfall hazards and aim to remove rock and debris caused by the rockslide of 2016. This work will also address the timber boardwalk portion of the towpath by removing and replacing it. A design–build contract is anticipated to be awarded in 2020 for this next phase of work. Once the design is completed and permitted, construction is anticipated to begin in early 2021.
What is the need for the project?
Loose rock above the towpath at the “cut” and north portal (downstream entrance to the tunnel) presents potential safety hazards to visitors. The rock also threatens to damage the boardwalk section of the towpath. This project provides for visitor safety from rock fall as well as protection for the boardwalk/towpath.
What does the project include?
While the next phase is still in design, it is anticipated that the project will include measures similar to the previous two phases. Typical measures include “scaling,” or removing, loose and unstable rock and debris from above the towpath/boardwalk in the “cut” approaching the north tunnel portal. Additionally, rock was “pinned” in place to provide further stability and long-term protection. Rock scaling and pinning has occurred in this area before. Measures to better manage surface and ground water are also included. In some areas a pinned mesh will be used to stabilize localized rock slopes.
What is the history of the Paw Paw Tunnel?
The Paw Paw Tunnel is one of the most significant engineering features on the Canal. To save building six miles of canal along the river, the C&O Canal Company decided to construct a tunnel through a steep topographic ridge now called Tunnel Hill. When work began on the tunnel in 1836, the builders estimated the project would be complete within two years. The tunnel ultimately required 14 years to complete due to labor issues and violence, funding shortfalls, work stoppages, and the challenges of digging a 3,118-foot tunnel through the hard, loose shale. The tunnel opened in October 1850 with rockslides continuing to be a challenge throughout the tunnel’s history.
How will this project benefit park visitors?
Visitor safety is improved by removing loose rock and debris from above the towpath and by stabilizing the remaining rock to reduce potential for future rock fall. This work also protects the boardwalk section of the towpath from potential rock fall.
How will this project impact natural and cultural resources?
Every project the National Park Service executes undergoes review by a multidisciplinary team to ensure compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and other federal, state, and local laws.
An environmental assessment (EA) was prepared by the park for phase 1 & 2 and for the project currently being designed. Documents can be found on the Planning, Environment and Public Comment website.
Last updated: June 11, 2020