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Why Some Tunnels Ban Propane Tanks (and What It Means for RV Drivers)

Why Some Tunnels Ban Propane Tanks (and What It Means for RV Drivers)

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RVs, also known as recreational vehicles, are motor vehicles that have living quarters attached to them. There are various kinds of RVs that are sold nowadays, ranging from caravans to campervans to motorhomes.

Think of an RV as a home on wheels that allows you to go anywhere you want! Other variants include popup campers, truck campers, and fifth-wheel trailers. Most RVs have a range of amenities built into them.

For instance, almost all kinds of modern RVs come with an attached bathroom and a kitchen. They also include sleeping facilities and a small living space.

Depending on the price of the RV, the number of included features can vary dramatically. Utilitarian RVs are cheaper and come with minimal cooking facilities and a small sleeping quarter.

Luxurious RVs, which obviously cost a lot more, come with additional features like a water tank, air conditioning, a hot water heater, satellite receivers, expensive stone countertops, and more.

Some RVs are only trailers that can be pulled behind a motor vehicle, while others are completely self-motorized. Most RVs have a single-deck, although double-deck RVs are also available.

If you don’t want to stay in one place and like to move around the country, owning an RV is a fantastic idea. You can decorate it however you want, and move around with ease.

However, one thing that you need to realize is that RVs are much larger than standard vehicles, so appropriate care needs to be taken when learning how to operate one.

There might be areas where your RV is not allowed to travel, so it’s important for you to identify these locations. When it comes to driving through tunnels, most RVs can easily travel through various tunnels around the country.

Tunnels made on major highways can easily accommodate large trucks, and RVs are no exception. However, you should know that the main determinants are the height and the width of the tunnel.

Other factors might come into play as well. For instance, some tunnels have explicit signs prohibiting RVs from entering because of the propane tanks installed in them.

Why Are Propane Tanks Found in RVs?

Propane is commonly used for lighting fires, and when the cylinders are properly inspected on a regular basis, propane tanks don’t pose any hazard. However, propane is highly combustible, so there is always a risk.

Most RVs that have a dedicated kitchen unit also come with portable propane tanks installed. These are generally 20-pound containers, although some can be larger, allowing them to store upwards of 2,000 gallons of propane.

Now, many people might be wondering why they can’t bring propane into a tunnel, and that is a valid question. But, before we go ahead and answer that, it’s important to understand some of the risks and restrictions associated with driving a RV through a tunnel.

Tunnel Restrictions

Most newer tunnels throughout the country are generally built to allow vehicles as high as 13 feet through them. They also allow vehicles with a width of almost 9 feet. But you have to understand that not all tunnels conform to the same specifications.

Many Class A RVs are designed to be almost 13 feet in height and are easily 8.5 feet wide. Even smaller trailers can be almost 8 feet wide.

More importantly, you have to understand that just because your RV fits in a tunnel doesn’t mean that you can drive it straight through. In some cases, legal restrictions might exist that prevent you from driving your RV through the tunnel.

For instance, you might not know this, but in the United States, many states have a blanket restriction on allowing RVs to be any wider than 8 feet. If you buy an oversized motorhome or a campervan, it’s probably going to be wider than 8 feet.

Obviously, you don’t have to worry about getting fined for your RV having a few extra inches on either side. However, it’s still important that you remain aware of these restrictions.

The good thing is that a majority of the tunnels usually have their maximum restrictions listed before the tunnel entry. Even inside the tunnel, you will see these signs posted all around.

So, when you are approaching a tunnel, it is a wise idea to look at the different restrictions mentioned before you enter.

If you have a large motorhome or a campervan in tow, it would be a wise idea to consider investing in a GPS designed for RVs. These GPS systems are designed to warn you before you approach a bridge or tunnel that might be restricted.

More importantly, when you are traveling to a particular destination, the GPS will help you navigate the best and the safest route. However, you have to be a bit careful that you verify the GPS navigation before you pass through tunnels.

Remember, don’t think that a GPS system is a viable substitute for advanced planning and human judgment.

How to Calculate the Length and Height of an RV

There are some pretty simple ways that you can calculate the length, width, and height of your RV. Most manufacturers generally provide complete stats on their website for different models.

Ideally, the best thing you can do is check the information for the make and model of your RV on the official website of the manufacturer. Or, if you are still not sure, you could take it to a workshop and get it fixed.

Weight Considerations

Even though it is quite rare, you should know that restrictions can be introduced on RVs based on their weight. Furthermore, there’s also a strong chance that electronic toll passes will not be applicable for heavy motorhomes or campervans.

If you have an EZ-Pass, you might want to check it to see if it works before you head out. It might also be a wise idea to visit a weigh station to determine the weight of your RV.

What About Propane Tanks?

Now, as mentioned before, you need to understand that RVs might be prohibited from entering certain tunnels because of the propane tanks that most RVs carry.

The reason for this is because some of these tunnels run underwater, and there is a strong possibility that the propane gas will pool up within these tunnels and eventually get trapped.

With the passage of time, the amount of propane will continue to increase in the tunnel, and this could eventually light up! Since propane is highly flammable, you really wouldn’t want to drive through a tunnel full of it.

While most shorter tunnels do not have any restrictions on allowing RVs with propane tanks to pass through, longer tunnels generally do have restrictions. That’s because in shorter tunnels, the gas can easily escape from the sides.

In most situations, you will often notice signs that require you to pull over so an expert can check your propane tanks. They will check to see if the tanks are turned off before they allow you to drive in the tunnel.

In other situations, there might be blanket bans on vehicles with propane tanks. In such situations, there will be instructions to tell you what route you need to take to bypass the tunnel.

Obviously this can be an inconvenience, especially if the detour takes you on a longer route. For instance, if there is a bridge close to the tunnel, it might just be an easier option to take the RV over the bridge.

But if there are no detours nearby, the state might simply position an inspector to carefully check RVs and then let them through.

Uphill and Downhill Tunnels

Furthermore, you should know that the propane restrictions for different tunnels might be influenced by the gradient of the tunnel. For instance, they will be different whether the tunnel points uphill or downhill.

Most mountain tunnels tend to go uphill instead of downhill, so this usually prevents propane from pooling up in the tunnel. On the other hand, tunnels that are built under water usually travel downhill, and then upwards.

This creates a shallow point in the tunnel where the propane gas can pool up. Even a relatively narrow gradient could prove to be a problem.

The uphill gradient of most tunnels running through the mountains is perhaps the main reason why there are usually no restrictions on RVs entering with propane tanks. On the other hand, virtually all downhill tunnels prohibit propane use within the tunnels.

If you are going through a tunnel that allows RVs and doesn’t prohibit propane tanks, but you notice some restrictions, there are several things that you can do to make sure that your journey is as smooth as possible.

For instance, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel has a specific spot for RVs to park before they enter the tunnel. When you park safely, you will have to get out and check to see whether the propane tank is shut off completely.

An inspector will be available on-site as well, and they will verify that the propane tanks are completely shut off before you enter the tunnel.

Thankfully, most tunnels have many signs leading up to them that remind drivers to shut off their propane tanks before they enter. Furthermore, there’s probably going to be a clearly marked location that is quite convenient for drivers to pull over and check their propane tanks.

Tunnels You Can Drive Through

There are several tunnels around the country that make it easy for you to drive your RV through without any restrictions. Let’s talk about a few of them.

The George Washington Bridge

The George Washington Bridge was constructed almost 100 years ago, and by 1940, it had already been expanded to eight lanes. There is an upper and a lower section, both of which are quite easy to access.

However, if you have a propane tank in your RV, you will only be allowed to travel via the upper section.

The Holland Tunnel

Referred to as a marvel of structural engineering, the Holland Tunnel actually runs underneath the Hudson River, connecting Manhattan with Jersey City.

The Holland Tunnel has been used since 1927, and at one point in time, was considered the longest underwater tunnel in the world. There are exhaust fans installed in the tunnel, but due to the fact that propane is heavier than air, these fans aren’t able to properly remove propane.

As a result, bringing propane tanks in the tunnel is strictly prohibited. In fact, the laws are so severe that even if there is no propane tank in your RV, you still might not be allowed inside.

That’s not due to the propane tanks however, but because there is a height limit on this tunnel of 12 feet, 6 inches, and a width limit of 8 feet. Because several Class B and Class A campers can extend to 8.5 feet in width, you might be prohibited from entering in an RV.

Therefore, if you are going to enter this tunnel, it would be a wise idea to first check and see whether or not your RV will fit.

The Baltimore Harbor Tunnel

Then you have the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. More than 60 years old, the tunnel extends for more than a mile and a half. This tunnel completely prohibits vehicles with a propane tank that is more than 10 pounds per container.

This restriction means that you can carry up to 10 containers, each of which cannot weigh more than 10 pounds. So, if you are going to carry a couple of 5-pound propane tanks, there’s not much for you to worry about.

The height restriction also won’t prevent you from entering the tunnel since it allows vehicles up to 13 feet, 6 inches tall. However, the maximum width of the tunnel is only 8 feet, so you might face a few restrictions there.

These are just some of the important things that you need to keep in mind when traveling with a propane tank in your RV. As such, it’s best to identify your route before you get on your way!


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