Tunnel Vision

There were no signs warning me not to drive into the tunnel with an empty gas tank.

I was driving my mom’s Ford Focus, which was embarrassing enough. The next embarrassing thing was that the gas needle was on “empty.”

There were no signs necessary because the state highway department assumed that I had the intelligence to fill up my gas tank on occasion.

While the last thing the highway department wanted was to have some punk teenager run out of gas right in the middle of the busy tunnel and stop eastbound traffic, the state department of Transportation did not care about my automotive fuel needs.

Running out of gas in the eastbound land of an interstate highway that happened to go underneath the Mobile River would be a mess!

I mean, who would do a dumb thing like that?

So, let’s not talk about that.

Instead, let’s talk about this guy, shall we?


As you can see, a truck driver decided to pull off a magic trick and squeeze his oversized trailer into the Bankhead Tunnel, which was clearly marked to prohibit such nonsense.

The vertical clearance was 12 feet. His truck apparently was not.

I have a friend who once drove really fast over a bridge in a car filled with passengers. As they approached the bridge, there was a vocal concern as to whether the bridge was wide enough to handle the car. In other words, they all screamed about the obvious discrepancy between the bridge size and the car size and questioned the likelihood of them surviving. “Don’t worry he said. If I drive really fast, physics will force the car to shrink the closer we get to the bridge, and we’ll make it through just fine.”

Maybe that’s what the semi-truck driver was thinking.

Or maybe he just ignored the highway sign that said 12 feet clearance.

“Attention drivers. If any part of your vehicle is higher than 12 feet, STOP. Find another way because it ain’t gonna work.”

I don’t know why he selected this tunnel. There are several ways to reach the eastern banks of the Mobile River: Two large bridges, an additional tunnel with higher clearance, and a ferry. The only vehicles allowed in the tunnel that he chose are passenger cars and pickup trucks.

Because it was built in the 1940s, well before large, wild, and unrestrained 18-wheelers roamed the highways, it is a very narrow tunnel.

If you are driving a large truck or anything with hazardous materials, you are supposed to use a nearby bridge. I’m just glad he was hauling hay and not chickens, using cooking oil, or nuclear waste.

Of course, the Ford Focus died! I wouldn’t let you down.

Right there in the right-hand eastbound lane. Within three seconds Department of Transportation workers monitoring the tunnel on closed-circuit TV flipped switches that illuminated massively huge red signs with a big X on them.

Which gave me the uneasy feeling I wasn’t supposed to be there, out of gas and blocking traffic.

The whole tunnel glowed an eery red. I thought I was in the China Syndrome.

The workers dispatched a wrecker to push my mother’s car out of the tunnel and out of the way of travelers who clearly had more important places to be and who felt it necessary to communicate the importance of their journey as they hastily drove around me, waving politely.


They were probably from Mississippi.

I was probably 19 and definitely lacked a fully developed brain at the time. Actually, I have concluded that few men really should be allowed to roam alone before the age of 30, but that’s another story.

I’m also guessing that the trailer truck driver in the article was probably under 30 or was trying to conceal his load of hay from the authorities as he attempted to make his way to the very rural county east of the river where hay is obviously in short supply.

There are many tunnels that have built-in safety mechanisms that alert the driver that their vehicle is too high. Some have dangling chains or other real technology that will deploy to stop traffic before a rig gets stuck. However, this Bankhead Tunnel only had a sign, which went unread and unheaded.

So, know your height restrictions and weight limits, and please read the signs.

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