Kentucky Geological Survey Report of Investigations


Cumberland Gap Tunnel was constructed under Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in 1996 to improve transportation on a segment of U.S. 25E, connecting Kentucky and Tennessee and restoring Cumberland Gap to its historical appearance.

The concrete pavement in the tunnel started to subside in 2001. Ground penetrating radar surveys revealed voids in many areas of the limestone roadbed aggregate beneath the pavement. To investigate possible hydrogeologic processes that may have caused favorable conditions for voids to form in the aggregate, we studied geology, groundwater flow, and groundwater chemistry in the tunnel using a variety of methods, including bore drilling, packer test, dye tracing, groundwater- and surface-flow monitoring, water-chemistry modeling, and an aggregate dissolution experiment.

The study revealed that the aggregate receives a large volume of groundwater from much of the bedrock invert, but the flow velocity is too slow to transport small particles out of the aggregate. Calcite saturation indices calculated from water-chemistry data suggest that the groundwater was capable of continuously dissolving calcite, the primary mineral in the limestone aggregate. Water samples taken during different flow conditions indicate that groundwater under low-flow conditions. The dissolution experiment showed that all the limestone aggregate placed beneath the roadbed and in contact with groundwater lost mass; the highest mass loss was 3.4 percent during a 178-day period. The experiment also suggested that water with higher calcite-dissolving potential removed limestone mass quicker than water with low calcite-dissolving potential.

We recommend that the limestone aggregate be replaced with noncarbonate aggregate, such as granite, to prevent dissolution and future road subsidence.

Publication Date



Series XII

Report Number

Report of Investigations 27

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This investigation was funded by grant KTC10-03/KH58-07-1F and partially funded by Tunnel Management Inc.