Leaking Oklahoma Capitol tunnel provides damp welcome

Repairs to the underground passageway from the east side of the Oklahoma Capitol under N Lincoln Boulevard to parking lots east of the street should be considered, Capitol preservationists say.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: July 8, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: July 8, 2013

Trait Thompson, vice chairman of the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, said tunnel repairs should be considered with other concerns.

“It's an area that's well traveled by people trying to get into the building on a daily basis, so I certainly think it should be seriously considered as being something that's up for restoration and repair,” he said.

Repairing the tunnel could be very expensive, Mass said.

“The only way to fix it correctly is to dig a great big hole, which would be very expensive,” he said.

“Just dig around it and waterproof it.”

New injectable systems that produce a foam are available and can be applied by drilling holes in the walls and ceilings; wells and pumps to lower the water table around the tunnel could be installed, but they may not eliminate the leaking at various joints and expansion systems caused by rain, he said.

“Probably in another 20 to 30 years, you're going to be looking at significant structural problems in that tunnel if they just ignore it,” Mass said.

Some work to improve conditions is underway.

The tunnel's ceiling tiles are being replaced with a plastic egg-crate material, which is intended to help the air flow in the passageway and help deal with the dank, stinky conditions after rain leaks into the tunnel, Estus said.

“Right now it can start to smell pretty dank and dingy and feel quite moist,” he said.

The new material should allow the tunnel to dry faster, he said.

“Right now it takes a long time for it to dry,” Estus said.

‘It doesn't instill any pride in the visitor'

Water in the tunnel got so high after the storm that struck May 31 — a Friday night — and flooded dozens of homes, offices and basements in the area, that the tunnel was closed for several days.

Murals painted more than 20 years ago to illustrate the state's six regional areas are faded and outdated; one intrepid soul sketched an outline of the dome, which was added 11 years ago, to a drawing of the Capitol on one of the walls.

Estus said conditions in the tunnel are not a health hazard but present a bad image for the state.

More school buses have been dropping students off at the south steps of the Capitol instead of being driven to the east lot for buses.

“We've done testing, and it is not as environmentally unfit as it may seem, but the perception of it being unhealthy is problematic,” he said.

“It's not something that benefits the image we're trying to create at the state Capitol. It doesn't instill any pride in the visitor to walk through a dank, dark tunnel with water coming from the ceiling.”