Volume 23, Number 3 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 28 - June 3, 2010
Brooklyn toll plaza looking toward Manhattan, circa 1950 (MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archive Collection).
Underwater passage celebrates 60th birthday
By michael mandelkern
Measuring 1.7 miles, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is the longest underwater tunnel in North America. The underwater passage, which serves approximately 44,000 vehicles commuting between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn everyday, celebrated its 60th birthday on May 25.
In the early-to-mid-1900s, ironworkers, engineers, carpenters, electricians and other laborers spent 13 million hours constructing the tunnel’s two tubes and four traffic lanes under the East River. Three buildings in Governor’s Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan provide ventilation for the tunnel.
The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel cost roughly $90 million. In the past sixty years, MTA Bridges and Tunnels has spent $323 million to maintain and improve the tunnel with improved lighting, updated exhaust vans and a new roadway and drainage system.
The federal government postponed the project in October 1942 to conserve steel and iron for World War II. Workers completed road surfacing, wiring, tiling and painting and opened up the tunnel eight years later.
On May 25, 1950, a large group of dignitaries, including then Mayor William O’ Dwyer and Robert Moses, legendary architect and head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority at the time, attended the tunnel’s debut ceremony.
“Since opening day in 1950 the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel has helped join the city together,” said Jim Ferrera, President of Bridges and Tunnels, according to a press release. “Every day thousands of New Yorkers rely on the tunnel to commute to Manhattan via express buses and cars, and for the delivery of goods.”
Vincent Tedesco, a Fulton Street resident, frequents the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel twice per week during the school year. It takes him approximately 30 minutes to arrive at the university he attends in Staten Island by swiftly arriving in Brooklyn and then onto the Verrazano Bridge. “The tunnel is more efficient and quicker than the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway [BQE],” he said.
Tedesco considers himself one of the few who drives a motor scooter through the tunnel but enjoys weaving through the traffic. “Riding through there is like a video game, but I feel safe,” he said.
Renée Shepherd, General Manager of MTA Bridges and Tunnels, also praised the tunnel’s convenience. “Our employees are dedicated to ensuring safe and efficient travel for our customers, and are aware of its importance as an extremely vital transportation corridor in New York City,” she said through the press release.
The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was crucial to rapid emergency response after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Fire engines rushed to and from the scene that day, and construction vehicles made constant trips to Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11.
Moses originally intended to build a bridge instead of an underwater tunnel. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt objected under the belief that it would be a national security risk. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt also voiced opposition to the initiative because she thought that method of transportation would obstruct views and ruin parkland, a sentiment some New Yorkers shared at the time.
The MTA did not hold a formal ceremony to commemorate the tunnel’s 60th anniversary but “it’s going to remain a vital link for that corridor,” said Judie Glave, a public affairs representative of MTA Bridges and Tunnels.
The organization, which is entirely funded by tolls and bonds, will take measures to balance its budget by cutting overtime pay by $22 million this year and $60 million in 2011 and each year thereafter.
The spending reductions will affect all seven bridges and two tunnels that MTA Bridges and Tunnels operate, including the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.
MTA Bridges and Tunnels also increased its efficiency to be more productive. The agency will add an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift for overnight maintenance, which is projected to save $1 million in the process, according to the MTA Web site.
Although the MTA’s tight budget is hindering future construction, toll fees, which will rise next year, keep the tunnel in good condition. “It’s as well-maintained and vital today as it was 60 years ago,” said Glave.