How Was the Lincoln Tunnel Built?

how was the lincoln tunnel built

If you’re a true New Yorker, you’ve certainly been through the Lincoln Tunnel a time or two. If your a recent New York visitor or tourist, you’ve certainly heard of the infamous roadway phenomenon that is the Lincoln Tunnel. However, have you ever wondered, “how was the Lincoln Tunnel built?”

Well, like most American landmarks, the Lincoln Tunnel stands with much history behind it’s construction. Today, we would like to share with you some fun facts and historical information about how the 1.5 mile long, 3 tunnel roadway masterpiece, the Lincoln Tunnel, was built.

First things first, for those of you who do not know, the Lincoln Tunnel currently acts as a connector between midtown Manhattan and Weehawken, New Jersey, some of the areas busiest travel spots. When I say busy, I mean this tunnel serves as a state connector to just about 42 million vehicles each year.

how was the lincoln tunnel built

So, where did this all begin and how? The complete construction of the Lincoln Tunnel took place over the course of twenty years! The end size resulting in an astounding 13 toll tunnel.

Considering the structure had to be built underneath the Hudson River, the task of creating this tunnel was a project like no other, especially during the 1930s.

According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the quote below gives you an idea about the necessary materials that were required when beginning to piece together the tunnel:

“Hundreds of huge iron rings, each weighing 21 tons, had to be assembled and bolstered together on-site to form the lining of the tunnel.”

Originally, the Lincoln Tunnel went by the name of the “Midtown Hudson Tunnel” Also according to the Port Authority of NY and NJ, the Lincoln Tunnel project was first approved only shortly after the Holland Tunnel had been built in the 1930s. The construction for the Lincoln Tunnel itself began in 1934.

So, how was the Lincoln Tunnel built? Here is the methodology:

“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.” -Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

The brains behind the operations, or the workers on site at the tunnel at the time, were known as “sandhogs.” (This name is still frequently used to describe tunnel builders.) The sandhogs who built the Lincoln Tunnel possessed strength like no other.

The majority of the Lincoln Tunnel sandhogs were made up of two crews, one crew who was working from the New Jersey side, and another crew who was working to meet them in the middle from the New York side.

how was the lincoln tunnel built

“The first “hole through” was achieved on August 3, 1935, when a hydraulic engineer in the New Jersey end was pushed by his feet through an opening to meet the New York crew.” – Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Due to it’s size, the offical opening of the Lincoln Tunnel had to be done in parts. Below are the Lincoln Tunnel’s opening dates by tube:

“The first tube of the Lincoln Tunnel-the center tube-opened to traffic two years later (2 years from the first “hole-through”), on December 22, 1937. The north and south tubes opened on February 1, 1945, and May 25, 1957, respectively.” – Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

how was the lincoln tunnel built

The tunnel currently stands in place today with a brighter future still yet to come. According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the current Lincoln Tunnel operator, here is what travelers can expect:

“Future plans include the rehabilitation of the “Helix,” the series of entry ramps to the tunnel on the New Jersey side.”

There you have it, if you have yet to travel through the Lincoln Tunnel, be sure to add it to your list of “must sees,” but do be prepared for some fellow travelers to have the same idea!

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Elizabeth Wright

Freelance writer specializing in real estate, lifestyle and tech. Lucky enough to have visited 27 countries, but always coming back to NYC!