Ballpark Estimate: $240 Million (1957 dollars); $1.9 Billion (2007 dollars)
Originally called the Midtown Hudson Tunnel, the Lincoln Tunnel is actually the world’s first three-tube underwater vehicular tunnel system. The three so-called “tubes” are known as the North, Center, and South Tunnels, each 21.5 feet wide and designed with two traffic lanes apiece. The tunnels cross the Hudson River connecting NJ-495, NJ-3, and the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) in Weehawken, N.J. to Midtown Manhattan at 39th Street in New York City.
Designed by Ole Singstad, a Norwegian-American who pioneered underwater vehicular tunnels, he had previously designed the novel ventilation system for the Holland Tunnel and is renowned for designing all the underwater road tunnels in New York City. With funding provided by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, construction of the first tube, referred to as the Center Tunnel, began in 1935 under the auspices of the New York Port Authority. The tunnel was designed to carry traffic over two lanes, one traveling west to New Jersey, the other returning to New York.
Life of a “Sandhog”
Working conditions inside the tunnel were quite claustrophobic and extremely hazardous. In fact, each man had to undergo a tedious pressurization/depressurization process before entering and leaving the work area which has a maximum depth of some 100 feet below the river’s surface. And because of the higher pressure within these tubes, the workers, or “sandhogs” as they were called, were limited to only a half-hour of work in the morning and a half-hour in the afternoon. Despite the many obstacles, work on the 8,216 foot long tunnel was completed in 1937 with all the pomp and ceremony such a project deserved.
Total cost to excavate the center of the Lincoln Tunnel was $75 million
North Tunnel Construction
In time, however, vehicular traffic had increased quite significantly and was approaching a point where the single two-lane tunnel would become less effective. To alleviate the growing congestion, construction on the second tunnel began north of the original tube in 1938. Delayed by material shortages of World War Two, the 7,482 foot long North Tunnel was finally opened in 1945.
Total cost to construct the North Tunnel was $80 million
South Tunnel Construction
With the U.S. postwar economy and prosperity still on the rise, trans-Hudson vehicular traffic continued to grow after World War Two. And once again, the construction of an additional tunnel was approved by the Authority. This third two-lane tunnel, which was built to the South of the original tube, included approach roads in both New Jersey and New York and outlying parking areas. It was the 8,006 foot South Tunnel, a project that opened to traffic in May of 1957.
Total cost to construct the South Tunnel was $85 million
Busiest Tunnel in the World
Reported to be one of the busiest vehicular tunnels in the world, nearly 130,000 vehicles use the six lanes within the three tunnels each and every day. In fact, in 2007, the total traffic count in both directions was 43,684,000 vehicles.
To avoid rush hour traffic and significantly reduce travel time, during the weekday morning commute hours between 6 and 10 a.m., the normally westbound lane of the Center Tunnel is reserved exclusively for eastbound bus traffic into Manhattan. Current estimates show that each day approximately 1,700 buses transport over 60,000 commuters from the New Jersey Turnpike, across the Hudson River, onto ramps directly connected to the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal. The Center Tunnel is the only one where traffic flow can be changed by the Authority from a two-way, eastbound, or westbound, as conditions may warrant. The North and South Tunnels, however, are directionally fixed at two-way.
High Tech Security
To closely monitor this enormous volume of vehicular traffic, an extremely high-tech computer software system is in place that monitors all traffic and roadway conditions, automatically detects incidents such as collisions, stalled vehicles, accidents, fires, chemical spills, and suspicious activity. In addition, the system enhances facility security, and implements optimal response plans to maximize the efficiency of the tunnel. This fully integrated intelligent video surveillance is provided via video signals from close circuit TV cameras. The images are transmitted along fiber optics cables to the main control center video display wall where they are displayed on 22 Hitachi 42-inch HD plasma screens providing operators with 88 real time camera views of the tunnel complex.
The current two-axle vehicle toll for the 1.5 mile drive is $8.00. This toll is collected only for traffic entering Manhattan.