I always wondered how the Holland Tunnel was built underwater. I remember as a little girl the only times I’d ever get to cross the tunnel was when one of my family members had to be dropped off to JFK airport. It was during those trips that we’d pass through the tunnel. This one time my cousin told us that whenever we enter the tunnel we should recite a small prayer because we were underwater. That if God forbid the walls even had the smallest crack, the tunnel would flood with water and we’d all die. I know, it was a pretty horrific description of what would go down. But from that time, I’ve always wondered how someone managed to build a tunnel underwater.
I’m most fascinated by the architecture of the tunnel. The chief engineer of the tunnel, Clifford M. Holland did one heck of a job coming up with the nitty-gritty details of the tunnel. From the ventilation system, to how cars would navigate through the tunnel — this man literally had it all figured out. Unfortunately, he died shortly after the tunnel was built.
A tunnelling shield was used to construct the Holland Tunnel. A tunnelling shield is used as a support structure to prevent things like mud and water from seeping and collapsing the tunnel. One tunnelling shield began from the New Jersey side and one began from the New York side. The shields were pneumatically pushed through the river bottom.
A road beneath the Hudson River which solved the issue of vehicular traffic and managed to combat the issue of carbon monoxide by means of a ventilation system has proven to be both groundbreaking and innovative. The Holland Tunnel was the world’s first mechanically ventilated tunnel. I can only imagine the dedication and time that went into engineering such a marvel.
I don’t think many people pay heed to the bridges and tunnels they cross when transporting from one place to another. The truth is that these examples of architectural brilliance have become routine for us that we, perhaps, don’t realize the immense convenience they provide. I do always marvel over the Holland Tunnel though because it’s so close to home and also because it holds special childhood memories.