The 4,229-foot (1,288 m) tunnel was first opened in 1972 after five years of construction labor. It carried a price tag of $50 million, which at the time was the most expensive single project undertaken on Virginia's interstate system. The opening of the tunnel reduced the travel time from Wytheville to Bland County by 30 minutes.
Preliminary engineering studies for the project were made by Brokenborough & Watkins, consulting engineers of Richmond, Virginia, and the final design of the roadway and tunnel was by Singstad & Kehart, consulting engineers of New York City.
The tunnel approaches and surrounding area can be viewed from the Big Walker Lookout, a 100-foot observation tower built on a nearby peak.