By Roz Hamlett, Editor
In the late 1920s, despite the overwhelming financial success of the Holland Tunnel, traffic congestion in mid-town Manhattan remained a huge problem. But no one could have aniticipated that the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s would make financing a new trans-Hudson tunnel crossing such a tough nut to crack. In order to obtain financing, the Port Authority turned to the Progress Works Administration, a federal New Deal agency that in 1933 loaned the Port Authority $37,500,000 in return for the agency’s agreement to build one tube instead of two.
What follows is a slideshow of photographs taken during construction of the first tube of the Lincoln Tunnel between 1935 and 1937 and the cast of characters who tunneled beneath the Hudson River, who newspaper reporter, L.H. Robbins, dubbed as “Big Irishmen, Italians, Negroes, Poles and Swedes, ox-strong, rough-clad, and spattered with mud, plaster and red lead. A heroic race they are, they and the stout-hearted Sandhogs, gamely and proudly doing Titans’ work down under the tide, under the town, making the world convenient for the rest of us.”
Work on the second tube began in 1938, but because of labor and material shortages caused by World War II, the work was suspended and the second tube was not ready until 1945. The Port Authority decided in 1951 to add a third tube, which was completed in 1957, a full thirty years after the opening of the Holland Tunnel.
A traditional groundbreaking ceremony took place on Thursday, May 17, 1934 with separate exercises on either side of the Hudson River.
Once land on the west side of Manhattan had been cleared of old tenement buildings, engineers excavated a construction shaft to provide vertical access to tunnel operations, including staircases on one side and electrical cables on the other for electricity and pipes carrying compressed air to keep the Hudson River from rushing into the tunnel. Within this shaft, workers known as “Sandhogs” assembled the cutting shield, weighing over 400 pounds, to initiate the burrowing beneath the Hudson. Holes were first drilled at the face of the tunnel, and then the drill holes were loaded with explosives and detonated.
After the smoke cleared, the rubble was removed.
A closeup of the cutting shield. The steel edge projects forward at the tops and the sides like the visor of a cap and protects workers underneath from falling debris. A battery of hydraulic jacks with a thrust of 6,000 tons pushed the cutting shield through the earth and into the silt and rock of the riverbed.
Workers installed the framework for pouring the concrete slab in which roadway would be supported. A movable frame supports the ceiling and the sides of the walls. 12. Like the Holland Tunnel, the Lincoln Tunnel in cross-section was constructed like a box within a circle. As the work proceeded, these workers install fresh air ducts underneath the roadway and exhaust ducts above the ceiling to accommodate the ventilation system.
Workers tightening the tunnel bolts. Most of the skilled sandhogs on the job received an average of $10 for a day’s work, which consisted of two three-hour shifts with three hours’ rest in between.
A single chalked line marked the underwater boundary between New Jersey and New York.
The tiles are laid as part of the finishing stages.
Tunnel lighting is installed.
The Lincoln Tunnel at completion is 1.5 mile long stretch connecting Weehawken, New Jersey to Manhattan at 39th St. It is to become the busiest vehicular tunnel in the world.
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