It leaks. It's moldy. It smells bad.
The tunnel under N Lincoln Boulevard is the main entrance to the state Capitol for those who park in parking lots for vehicles and buses on the east side of the street.
It's the first impression for many visitors and Oklahoma students.
Water seeps through the walls and roof of the 650-foot-long underground passageway anytime significant rains occur. Buckets and barrels are placed to catch water from the biggest leaks; female state prison inmates assigned to the work detail at the Capitol usually are dispatched during regular business hours to squeegee water.
“It can get downright disgusting in there,” said John Estus, a spokesman for the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which oversees a division that deals with the maintenance of state buildings. “It's not a pleasant area after it's rained, especially if it's rained a lot. It's flooded numerous times over the years.”
As a study is developed on how to spend $120 million over the next two years repairing the nearly 100-year-old Capitol, some are saying the tunnel needs to be included in those discussions.
Duane Mass, the Capitol architect, said the tunnel issues need to be addressed. The idea of digging up the tunnel to replace its waterproofing system is expensive; one of the trouble spots is right under the street.
“I really hope that it is dealt with,” Mass said. “If we decide to deal with it in five years, it will just be a lot more expensive in five years.”
The Capitol certainly can function without the tunnel, but the tunnel, which was built in the late 1960s, is what makes the east parking lots work, Mass said. The tunnel provides a safe entrance from the east; the other option is to walk across two lanes of traffic and an access lane to NE 23.
“Without the tunnel, the east parking lot is untenable,” Mass said. “They park a lot of the buses over in the east.”
a lower priority'
Estus said repairs to the tunnel could be part of overall Capitol repairs, but it won't be known until the project completion plan is done.
No members have yet been appointed to a nine-member commission reconfigured this year that will is charged with overseeing Capitol repairs.
“Candidly, it's probably a lower priority than some of the other issues,” he said.
“It is possible that some resources could be directed to the tunnel.”
Pieces of limestone have been falling the past two years from the building's exterior. Much of the electrical wiring is outdated and the plumbing system is failing.
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.”