LEFT: This 2000 photo shows the Art Deco-style Manhattan portal of the Lincoln Tunnel and the east ventilation tower. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
Just after the Port of New York Authority (later the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) acquired jurisdiction of the Holland Tunnel, the states of New York and New Jersey authorized the Authority to construct the "Midtown Hudson Tunnel" - later known as the Lincoln Tunnel - between Weehawken, New Jersey and midtown Manhattan.
Plans for the tunnel were first announced in 1930, when the Port Authority proposed a $62 million, twin-tube tunnel under the Hudson River between West 38th Street and Weehawken, New Jersey. The proposal also included a land tunnel extension from the toll plaza west through Bergen Hill, ending at Tonnelle Avenue (US 1-US 9) in North Bergen. The Hudson River tunnel project was to be constructed in conjunction with an East River (Queens-Midtown) Tunnel between East 38th Street and Long Island City, Queens.
Robert Moses, who was appointed chairman of the New York State Emergency Public Works Commission in 1933 under Governor Lehman, obtained funds for the Port Authority to construct the tunnel after negotiations with the federally run Reconstruction Finance Corporation in Washington. Ole Singstad, who oversaw construction of the Holland Tunnel, consulted on the project under Port Authority chief engineer Othmar Ammann.
CONSTRUCTION MOVES FORWARD: Once again, construction crews faced dangerous working conditions. From Perpetual Motion: The Illustrated History of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by Joe Mysak and Judith Schiffer:
The work of the sandhogs was dangerous, claustrophobic and tedious. Just entering and exiting the tunnel took a long time. Crews entered air locks, one at a time, after which the doors at each end were sealed. An air pipe started hissing, and the men's ears would pop as the air pressure climbed until it equaled that of the adjoining lock. The workers were then able to safely open the connecting door and crowd into the next section, where the entire ordeal would be repeated. Once at the forward end of the tunnel, the men had to work swiftly because they could handle the pressure only briefly. Compression and decompression had to be reached in safe, short increments.
Even though the work of the sandhog was dangerous, there was a tremendous emphasis on worker safety: the "sandhogs" were limited to one hour of work per day (one-half hour in the morning and one-half hour in the afternoon, interrupted by five hours of rest). The result was that the Lincoln Tunnel was the first major tunnel project to be completed without a single fatality.
While one work crew progressed from the Manhattan side, another progressed from the Weehawken side. The first "hole through" occurred on August 3, 1935, when a hydraulic engineer from the New Jersey crew was pushed by his feet through an opening to meet the New York crew.
The first tube (today the center tube) of the Lincoln Tunnel was opened on December 22, 1937, at a cost of $75 million. Unlike the Holland Tunnel, the original Lincoln Tunnel was a singular tube that allowed only one lane of traffic in each direction. In its first year of operation, a less-than-stellar 1.8 million vehicles used the new tunnel, prompting the following quote from Port Authority Executive Director Austin Tobin:
"We used to bet a dime on whether we'd pass one, two or three vehicles while driving through the tunnel!"
THE SECOND AND THIRD TUBES: However, it did not take long for traffic to accumulate on the tunnel. A second tube was opened north of the original tube in 1945, after years of war-related delays. This allowed for two lanes of eastbound and westbound traffic.
Nevertheless, trans-Hudson traffic continued to accelerate after World War II, prompting consideration of a new twin-tube tunnel between 14th Street in Manhattan and Hoboken, New Jersey. Instead, the Port Authority decided in 1951 to construct a third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel. This project, which included the approach roads in Manhattan and Weehawken, and the "peripheral parking area" outlined in the Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, was completed in 1957 at a cost of $85 million.
The center tube of the Lincoln Tunnel, shortly after its completion in 1937. (Photo by New Deal Network.)
THE LINCOLN TUNNEL EXPRESSWAY: Around the time that the third tube of the tunnel was completed, the four-lane, $10 million Lincoln Tunnel Expressway. The expressway, which runs north-south between the Manhattan plaza of the tunnel and West 30th Street, hooks up with all three tubes of the tunnel. In constructing the approach highway, engineers had to build a bridge under an existing bridge, provide two twin tunnels and five viaducts, depress and elevate part of the roadbed as necessary, and develop an intricate network of entrance and exit ramps at intermediate points. As part of the expressway design, ramps were constructed to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
The Lincoln Tunnel Expressway was to be integrated into the Mid-Manhattan Expressway, a crosstown route leading to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. The Mid-Manhattan Expressway, which was to be designated I-495, was canceled in 1971. For another 18 years, I-495 was a disjointed route through Manhattan. In 1989, the I-495 designation was removed from the Lincoln Tunnel.
THE LINCOLN TUNNEL TODAY: According to the Port Authority, the Lincoln Tunnel carries approximately 120,000 vehicles per day (AADT), making it the busiest vehicular tunnel in the world. The three tubes of the Lincoln Tunnel, which connect midtown Manhattan with the NJ 495 Freeway, NJ 3 and the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95), allow for flexibility in handling traffic.
The Port Authority completed two projects at both portals in late 2004. At the New Jersey portal in Weehawken, construction is underway to reconstruct the Lincoln Tunnel toll plaza. In Manhattan, the agency is rebuilding ramps connecting to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The total cost of both projects was $50 million.
CHANGES IN TRAFFIC PATTERNS As part of larger-scale efforts to reduce congestion in Manhattan below 63rd Street after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Port Authority and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) imposed new HOV restrictions on the Lincoln Tunnel. The Manhattan-bound HOV restriction, which applied from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM weekdays, was removed in April 2002.
In November 2003, the Port Authority established new restrictions on westbound traffic entering the tunnel to relieve nearby city streets during evening rush hours. Motorists entering the tunnel between 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM weekdays now must use entry points at West 30th Street, West 31st Street and West 36th Street to enter the Lincoln Tunnel Expressway. The entry points at West 39th Street and West 41st Street are closed off to vehicles during the evening rush.
LEFT: This 1998 photo shows the interior of the Lincoln Tunnel. (Photo by Alex Nitzman.) RIGHT: This 1999 photo shows the three-portal Weehawken entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel and the toll plaza. To bring the NJ 495 roadway down from the cliffs of Weehawken, a "helix" was constructed in which the highway gradually descends in a 360-degree fashion before reaching the toll plaza. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
Construction started: Opened to traffic (north tube): Opened to traffic (center tube): Opened to traffic (south tube): Number of tubes: Number of traffic lanes: Length between portals (north tube): Length between portals (center tube): Length between portals (south tube): Operating headroom of tunnel: External diameter of tunnel: Maximum depth, mean high water to roadway: Cost of original structure:
May 17, 1934 February 4, 1945 December 22, 1937 May 25, 1957 3 tubes 6 lanes 7,482 feet 8,216 feet 8,006 feet 13 feet 31 feet 97 feet $75,000,000
SOURCES: "Tunnel Plan Ready for Legislature," The New York Times (1/13/1930); "Third Lincoln Tube Voted by Port Unit, To Cost $85 Million" by Joseph C. Ingraham, The New York Times (3/09/1951); "Workmen Begin Boring the Third Tube of the Lincoln Tunnel," The New York Times (9/03/1954); Joint Study of Arterial Facilities, The Port of New York Authority and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1955); "New Lincoln Tunnel Expressway to Alleviate Midtown Congestion" by Joseph C. Ingraham, The New York Times (2/19/1957); "Interstate 495 Exclusive Bus Lane," Tri-State Regional Planning Commission (1972); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); The Story of America's Tunnels by Ray Spangenburg and Diane K. Moser, Facts on File Books (1993); "A Guide to Civil Engineering Projects in and Around New York City," American Society of Civil Engineers (1997); Perpetual Motion: The Illustrated History of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by Joe Mysak and Judith Schiffer, General Publishing Group (1997); "A Tunnel Vision To Unclog Rush Hour" by Ron Marsico, The Star-Ledger (10/30/2003); New Jersey Department of Transportation; New York City Department of Transportation; North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Ralph Herman; George Kowal; Raymond C. Martin.
Lincoln Tunnel, NY 495, NJ 495, and I-495 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Jeff Saltzman and Millerbernd Manufacturing Company. HOV sign by C.C. Slater.