OHIO COUNTY, W.Va. (WTRF) – Heading to Washington, PA or to The Highlands on I-70, you have probably been stalled right around the West Virginia-Pennsylvania line.

“In this area, there would be no construction. It is solely because the mine is going underneath.” 

Tony Clark, District 6 Engineer WVDOH

The mine, Tunnel Ridge LLC., is digging under an estimated 9,000 acres in Ohio and Washington Counties.  

It is done in what is known as ‘longwall mining.’ Imagine a huge piece of machinery slowly consuming a layer of coal about 300 feet below the earth’s surface. 

This is done in ‘panels’ that can stretch over 2 miles. A panel just crossed under I-70, roughly around May 24, 2022. 

Part 2: Traffic on I-70 isn’t for ‘construction’, It’s coal

To find a more accurate timeline, 7NEWS reached out to Ohio County Commissioners under the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ asking for any documents related to the mining under I-70. However, the commission says Tunnel Ridge filed an exemption under an ‘Interpretation of Trade Secrets.’ This action silenced the commission. 

West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection tells 7NEWS Tunnel Ridge must notify the Department of Highways 90 days before crossing underneath the interstate. Otherwise, the company is free to operate in the approved red border. (See news video for reference)

Tunnel Ridge mine map approved by the DEP

“Those bridges will not survive the longwall mining,” said Clark.

The Stoolfire concrete bridges indeed fell down, just after traffic was diverted onto bridges built by Swank Construction. Longwall mining left the earth under Stoolfire to fill in the gaps where coal was removed.  

That, known as ‘subsidence,’ can be seen in ‘wavy’ roads. Or in this panel’s case; crumbling concrete bridges that then needed replaced. This Stoolfire replacement cost is millions of dollars, according to Clark, paid presumably by Tunnel Ridge. 

Clark assures drivers the roads are safe. 

Tonya Yoders is a blogger with Center for Coalfield Justice who is calling for more transparency. 

“Every day I was seeing road construction and delays and I was late getting to places. Then accidents, constantly. And so, I thought it was regular routine road construction. I had no reason to think otherwise. And when I talk to people, that’s what they thought it was as well. And it wasn’t until about two months ago when I found out that was not totally the case.” 

Tonya Yoder, Center for Coalfield Justice on I-70 mining

In this construction, the DOH is intentionally slowing traffic down to one-lane both for the make-shift bridge but also due to the subsidence that is being monitored. 

Like most construction zones, accidents climb. This past May, two people lost their lives while sitting in traffic at the state line. 

RELATED: The cause of crash that killed two people on I-70 Westbound in West Virginia confirmed

November is the set completion date to see all lanes of I-70 re-open. Tunnel Ridge has passed under the West Virginia Welcome Center and West Alexander in the past years, but (per the DEP’s explanation) when the mine passes underneath again is a guessing game. 

However, according to PennDOT:

“Additional Tunnel Ridge Mine panels will pass under I-70 nine times between 2019 and 2038.” (PA.Gov)

Coming up on 7NEWS, Thursday, 7/14 7NEWS we ask law experts if the mining under I-70 can be stopped.

A spokesperson for Tunnel Ridge, LLC responded to this story in an email to 7News Thursday:

“The bridges were removed as part of a coordinated bridge replacement project timed with mining activity to minimize the inconvenience to the travelling public. Mining under the Stoolfire overpass occurred after the concrete bridges were removed.”  

Statement from Tunnel Ridge, LLC regarding Interstate 70