I don't think anyone really knows when the thoughts of a tunnel through the Cumberland's was first thought of, but it was opened in 1996. In the 1700's Daniel Boone made the Gap through the Cumberland's known. He and others led many people through the gap into Kaintuck, or Kentucky as we know it today. In the 1920's a road was built for automobiles to cross the Cumberland mountains, one of its names was Wilderness Trail, taken from what settlers called the trail that the road followed.
The road was a winding road connecting Cumberland Gap TN to Middlesboro Ky, but you had to pass through a short section of VA to get from one place to the other. This 3 mile section of road was named Massacre Mountain by the locals because there was so many crashes on it. As in most mountain roads a crash often resulted in fatalities.
Here is a pic of TN side opening of the tunnel.
It took 17 years from start to opening, I'm not sure if the 17 years included the many years of planning before they actually started the digging. The Tunnel is located in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and park Rangers do the patrolling. There are two tunnels, one for the north bound traffic and one for the south bound traffic, each tunnel has two lanes of traffic. The tunnel is 4600 feet long, and connects Ky to TN. The state line is not marked inside the tunnel to avoid state rivalries.
We were fortunate enough to get a tour of the tunnel thanks to the Great Staff at the CGNHP. About 22 volunteers were taken on a tour of the tunnel a few weeks ago. This is a picture of the control room where many cameras, temps, carbon monoxide, and a lot of other stuff is monitored.
This picture was taken inside the the control room looking towards Middlesboro.
This picture is on top of the tunnel looking towards Middlesboro, with several of the volunteers walking to the edge. We were told two deer have jumped to their death from up there, one landing in the north bound lane, and the other in the spillway of the north bound lane.
US 25 E coming out of the tunnel, taken from the top of the tunnel.
The Tunnel employees 37 people, all EMT trained, it has ambulances, wreckers, and fire trucks on both ends. An average of 35,000 vehicles pass through it daily, and that doubles when NASCAR races are held in Bristol. The tunnel has made it easy to get from KY to TN and eliminated many crashes. The Middlesboro rescue squad had a 50% reduction in the number of crashes it responded to the first year the tunnel was open.
In 2002 the old US 25 E was restored ( as best as they could) to the way it was when Daniel Boone led settlers through the Gap into Kaintuck. You can walk the same trail that Daniel Boone walked.