The tunnel, completed by the Soviet authorities in 1985, is one of only a handful of routes that cross the North Caucasus Range. It is at about 2,000 meters altitude and its length is 3,660 meters, and near the Roki Pass at about 3,000 meters altitude, which can only be used in summer. The other routes between Georgia and Russia include the Kazbegi-Verkhni Lars customs checkpoint on the Georgian Military Road, closed since June 2006, and the Gantiadi-Adler crossing in Abkhazia which Georgia believes to function illegally.
The tunnel has been important throughout the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. The South Ossetian authorities use tolls levied on tunnel traffic as one of their main sources of revenue. The Georgian government - backed by the United States - has long called for the South Ossetian side of the tunnel to be placed under the control of international monitors, rather than the South Ossetian secessionists and Russian peacekeeping forces. Since the Russian authorities blocked the Kazbegi-Verkhni Lars customs checkpoint in June 2006 the Roki Tunnel has been the only available road route from Russia to South Ossetia. The tunnel was used as a supply route for the Russian military during the 2008 South Ossetia War.