Skip to comments.9 U.S. highway tunnel projects: Insights into what we might get if I-81 is a tunnel
Posted on 04/29/2017 8:12:19 PM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
Syracuse, N.Y. --There's not a lot tunnel building going on in the United States.
Four highway tunnels have been completed over the last 10 years in the U.S. Four more tunnel projects are under construction or in design. And one long discussed project that would have tunneled underneath a national forest in California was dropped.
Could be a tunnel in Syracuse's future for Interstate 81?
After a tunnel was initially rejected, a tunnel or depressed highway is back on the table as an option to replace Interstate 81's 1.4 mile section of raised highway in Syracuse.
The DOT at first rejected seven tunnel options, saying they were too expensive, difficult to build and took too long to complete. The tunnels were estimated to cost $2.5 billion to $3.1 billion.
At the urging of tunnel advocates, Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January ordered the state Department of Transportation to hire a consultant to once again look at the feasibility of digging a tunnel for the highway.
The DOT had settled on two options for replacing I-81. It would either spend $1.7 billion to rebuild the elevated highway taller and wider. Or it could spend $1.3 on a community grid, which reroutes "through" traffic around the city on Route 481 and allows local streets to carry traffic to downtown destinations.
In the United States, there's plenty digging going on for large tunnels to bring water to cities or sewer lines to take waste away, but there are few tunnels being built to handle highways, according to experts and websites that follow tunneling.
9 highway tunnels in the United States in the last decade
The Big Dig Boston
Probably the most well known tunnel project is The Central Artery/Tunnel Project known unofficially as the Big Dig. It was plagued by cost overruns, delays, leaks, design flaws, charges of substandard materials, criminal arrests and a death.
The original cost in 1981 dollars was estimated at $2.8 billion, or $6 billion in 2006 adjusted dollars. The project came in at $14.6 billion when it was completed in 2007 making it the most expensive highway project in the United States.
The project included two new bridges, a 3.5 mile- tunnel under the city, and an extended highway to Logan International Airport. The plan was to build those structures and rework surface streets to shorten commute times and make it easier to travel in and out of Boston. The Central Artery and Tunnel project handles about 536,000 vehicles each weekday.
Did The Big Dig do its job?
"Rush hour brings what radio reporters refer to as heavy volume. But the traffic moves, and for 1.5 miles through downtown Boston, it moves out of sight, underground. Above those famously expensive tunnel boxes is some of the most beautiful and valuable urban real estate anywhere in the nation, if not the world. Getting to and from Logan Airport has never been easier, whether picking up grandma or getting an executive to a startup in Fort Point or along Route 128." said Anthony Flint in a story in the Boston Globe in December 2015, nearly the 10th anniversary of the Big Dig.
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, where the elevated highway used to be, now hosts parks, open space and amenities such as public art, food trucks, farmers' markets, a fountain, carousel, and the Harbor Islands visitor center.
Seattle's tunnel, the Alaska Viaduct Seattle SR99
Say the words "Seattle" and "tunnel," and someone will tell you the story about how the Big Bertha tunnel machine got stuck for two years.
Seattle's SR 99 two-mile tunnel replaces an elevated highway that slices through that city. The entire project is estimated at $3.1 billion.
Big Bertha began chewing her way through the earth in July 2013. Six months later the machine's seal system broke down and it took two years to lift the machine, repair it on the surface and get it tunneling again.Bertha finally broke through to the other side of the city on April 4 this year. The highway is expected to open to traffic in 2019.
The Seattle tunnel won't have mid-town exits and neither do the tunnels NYDOT has looked at for Syracuse. In both cities drivers will need to get off ramps at either end of the tunnel to travel local streets to enter downtown.
Elizabeth River Tunnel project
Virginia finished one tunnel project last year and has two more on the drawing boards.
The Elizabeth River Tunnels Project includes a new tunnel, the rehabilitation of other two tunnels and highway projects in the South Hampton Roads region of the Virginia coast. The $2.1 billion project is designed to reduce congestion on surface streets and arterial roads between Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia.
The project is being administered by Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) and Virginia Department of Transportation as part of a 58-year public-private partnership concession. Work began in 2012 and the new tunnel was completed in June 2016, months ahead of schedule.
New Hampton Roads Tunnel
The existing 3.5 mile Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel is two, two-lane tunnels under Hampton Roads Harbor in Virginia. It has artificial islands and trestle bridges that carry the highway to the shore. The tunnels opened in 1957 and 1976. They carry more than 100,000 vehicles a day during peak summer traffic.
Virgina is seeking input from contractors to build a new tunnel and bridge to expand I-64 in Hampton Roads to six lanes as part of a $3.3 billion project. The work is expected to be a awarded in 2019 with completion in 2024.
Thimble Shoals tunnel
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Commission last year awarded a $755 million contract to build a new 1-mile parallel tunnel at the Thimble Shoals Channel in Virginia Beach. The work is scheduled to begin this fall, and is expected to take five years. When complete, the new tunnel will carry two lanes of traffic southbound and the existing tunnel will carry two lanes of traffic northbound.
Port of Miami Tunnel
The $668.5 million Port of Miami Tunnel is 4,200 feet long and goes under Biscayne Bay in Miami connecting the MacArthur Causeway on Watson Island with the port on Dodge Island. Work began in 2010 and the tunnel opened in 2014.
The project provides direct access between the seaport and highways I-395 and I-95, creating another entry to Port Miami in addition to the Port Bridge.
The tunnel improves traffic flow in downtown Miami where an estimated 16,000 vehicles a day were using city streets to travel to and from the port.
Devil's Slide Tunnel
After nearly a 50 year hiatus, California completed two highway tunnel projects in 2013.
The Devil's Slide Tunnels, formally known as The Tom Lantos Tunnels, are two tunnels located within the coastal promontory of Devil's Slide near Pacifica, California.
State Route 1 in that area offered tight turns with breathtaking cliff top views of the ocean. The treacherous Devil's Slide stretch of the highway was routinely blocked by landslides.
The Devil's Slide tunnels, which opened in 2013, are the second and third longest road tunnels in California at 4,149 ft northbound, and 4,008 ft southbound. They were the first tunnels to open in the state since 1964.
Construction of the tunnels began in 2005 and took about two years longer than originally expected, in part because crews found unusual soil conditions that slowed work. The project has an estimated cost of $439 million.
Caldecott Tunnel fourth section
The fourth section of the Caldecott Tunnel also opened in 2013
The tunnel allows California State Route 24 to go through the Berkeley Hills between Oakland and Orinda. The first two sections of the tunnel were built in 1937, a third was built in 1964 and the fourth section was completed in 2013.
The fourth tunnel is 3,389 feet long, took three years to build and cost $417 million.
Irvine-Corona Tunnel was dropped
This is the tunnel that never happened.
In 2010, after spending $9 million on studies California dropped plans to build an $8.6 billion freeway and tunnel connecting Riverside and Orange counties in California and their main cities of Irvine and Corona.
The approximately 11.5-mile tunnel would have been built beneath the Santa Ana Mountains in the Cleveland National Forest to serve vehicles and rail traffic.
Environmentalists had worried the venting of vehicle exhaust from the tunnel would affect the forest.
Lived in Switzerland in 2008-09 when several tunnels in the Zurich area were under construction and some opened, improving commutes a great deal. Small country really investing in its future.
Many of the places that are tunneled or under consideration are geologically nuts to have tunnels. Just drove through Lantos a couple of months ago and it blows my mind the cost and the seismic logic.
I was always fascinated with the 4 remaining tunnels on the PA Turnpike. The oldest of them were origianlly RR tunnels that were widened and reinforced. Considering the technology and relatively primitive equipment the workers and engineers had at their disposal in the 1930’s it was amazing that those tunnels as well as the original 160 mile stretch of the Turnpike between Carlisle and Irwin was completed under budget and ahead of schedule, incredible for a gov’t project.
yea and 100 years later still paying for the turnpike
This might be the highest Major tunnel in the USA:
The Eisenhower Tunnel, officially the EisenhowerEdwin C. Johnson Memorial Tunnel, is a dual-bore, four-lane vehicular tunnel approximately 60 mi (97 km) west of Denver, Colorado, United States.
Approximately 11,250 Feet Elevation beneath the Continental Divide.
“Caldecott Tunnel fourth section”
Problem here is that the two original bores were opened in 1937 (as the Broadway Low Level Tunnel) are so narrrow that with today’s cars they are exceedingly slow. So traffic at afternoon commute times is still very much impeded since these two tunnels now handle only eastbound traffic. They are probably seismic issues with them as well.
The seattle tunnel got wood from fill dirt placed there many many years ago (it is along the downtown seattle waterfront) stuck in its boring head which clogged the areas where cooling water was injected (if I remember correctly) and the boring head overheated and destroyed the seal around the boring head..
I believe I am remembering the sequence of events correctly. ....i know it was some wood fibers clogging something up and causing overheating.
Then since it was not in place that was easily accessible to get the boring head out and the repairs were very very extensive....it took forever to get up and running again.
It just in the last few weeks reached its end point and is being cut apart and removed in pieces.
The tunnel will be great, the tolls will not (present day bridge is not tolled) and the waterfront will be opened up to development of high rise condos which will have unimpeded views of Elliot Bay.
The 3 billion will be recouped in a few years by increased property taxes and they will still jam the toll down our throat....imagine a toll to drive basically from the north end of the city to the south end....which is really just ablut 2.5 miles in distance and the tunnel is probably half of that.
Yup, just like the NJ Tpke, NY Thruway and Garden State Pkwy. I got some old state issued road maps of those highways from the 50’s. They said that the bonds that funded those roads were expected to be paid in full with interest by the mid 1990’s and the tolls removed. HA!
A Syracuse native here- I’m roaring with laughter that Syracuse thinks they will get a tunnel. There isn’t much rush hour there as it’s an economic wasteland. The cost of the tunnel would be double the value of all the real estate in Syracuse combined. It’s now just a college town and a tunnel there would be ludicrous.
The whole “we’re against an elevated I-81” thing came up about 20 years ago when libtards claimed the elevated highway separated Brick City (ghetto housing) from the university (thank god).
Good luck, Salt City!
actually the PA Turnpike was always big on political patronage, same with the bridges to NJ
“They” ALWAYS spew such lies to sell their schemes.
“They” who have passed on should be exhumed and posthumously burned at the stake.
“They” who yet live should be imprisoned for the remainder of their lives as punishment for the misery they have perpetrated.
“...the two original bores were opened in 1937 (as the Broadway Low Level Tunnel) are so narrow that with todays cars they are exceedingly slow.”
Huh. Compared to the Fourth Bore, yeah, but — really now — truck traffic uses them just fine, and I’ve gone through side-by side with a semi more than once. FEELS tight, but it’s not THAT bad; no worse than 880 coming through Oakland down around Fruitvale or High Street. Not as if there’s all THAT much skill involved; it’s all in the mind.
If there’s no phobic creature in front of me undergoing psychic trauma over the size of the nearing portal, I shoot right on through without so much as a blip on the brake. I’ve withered the mind of more than one shrinking Berkeleyan piloting my 15-passenger van through those holes at 65mph. Honestly, the tunnels proper aren’t that tight; what’s a bit iffy is the exit at the east end where you crest the grade, two sets of two lanes become one brace of four, again; and you sweep through an easy s-curve all at the same time. That’s where I always see the brake lights blossoming.
I’m hoping for the completion of the 710 under South Pasadena...
what should the toll be for the 710 tunnel ?
A economic toll would be $25 bucks rush hour, $10 daytime, $5 late night.
that might just barely cover the capital costs and maintence
$25 for a semi, maybe. No automobile driver is going to drive through that for $25.
I drove through the eastbound Caldecott Tunnel on a Sunday. Pretty gloomy looking inside. But since the tube I used was built in 1937, no wonder.
As far as traffic goes, I whizzed through the tunnel with no problem.
driver is willing to pay the cost of building the tunnel; then it shouldn’t get built.
it’s called capitalism
Syracuse is prosperous compared to Hartford CT (second lowest per capital income in the nation). Gov. Malloy’s answer—build a tunnel!
It probably won’t happen though—it might disturb the sacred burial grounds of Hartford’s murder victims. ;-)
We went into Oakland at about 2 p.m. Friday, and returned through the Caldecott a little after 3 and the eastbound lanes were already backed up to the Rockridge BART station. But when we exited the tunnel, there was no backup and everyone was at or above the limit. The tunnel is definitely a choke point, and it’s mostly because it’s narrow and dark. The new #4 bore is probably almost four lanes wide (striped down to two) in and of itself, and people fly through it. Just wonder when they decide the old tunnel needs to be replaced, what they will do because it will have to be taken out of service to be rebuilt.