Lincoln Tunnel Flooding: Pouring Cold Water on a Viral Video

By Amanda Kwan, Media Relations Staff

Late on a recent Tuesday afternoon, crews at the Lincoln Tunnel were notified of a water main rupture in an area inside the Tunnel’s Center Tube. Water streamed over the catwalk into the tube, captured on video by a motorist whose posted social media images went viral and generated discussion about the tunnel’s safety.

A damaged water pipe was quickly identified and isolated by maintenance staff. Crews closed one New York-bound lane to set a portable pump to force the water onto the catwalk and down to the roadway, where drains could carry the water to the New York City sewer system. The system worked as designed, pumping out the excess water as repairs to the water main began.  For the Lincoln Tunnel maintenance team, a pipe rupture is just one of any daily emergencies that can pop up and be readily handled at a moment’s notice.

For some, the video recalled the plot of a 1996 action movie in which a police chase results in a truck explosion inside another famous Hudson River underwater crossing, causing a collapse and subsequent flood.

“This reminds me of the old Sylvester Stallone disaster movie ‘Daylight’ in the Lincoln Tunnel. 2020 is half following every disaster movie plot so far,” tweeted Eric Feigl-Ding, a Harvard University epidemiologist.

But while 2020, with its global pandemic and threat of murder hornets, seems to be following the plots of multiple Hollywood movies at once, a Lincoln Tunnel collapse is not among them.


A video screenshot of the flooding, shared on multiple social media platforms.

“The Lincoln Tunnel is one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering,” said Hanson Lee, assistant director of operations for the Port Authority’s Tunnels, Bridges & Terminals Department. “Its skeletal structure is made up of hundreds of massive 21-ton iron rings that were bolted together. In addition, the interior of the rings is encased in concrete, thereby sealing out the Hudson River.”

The tunnel was built in portions, with one team digging from the New Jersey side and another from New York, aligning precisely both horizontally and vertically on August 3, 1935 when a hydraulic engineer from the New Jersey side was pushed by his feet through to the awaiting New York crew. Each of its three tubes carries two vehicle lanes for a total width of 21 feet, 6 inches.


One of many social media reactions to the viral video.

Beyond the vehicle travel lanes within each tube, other infrastructure inside the tunnels supports operations and maintenance. Catwalks allow maintenance crews safe access to lighting, power, communications and pump rooms, which house cables, ducts and various equipment. Each tube also houses a complex water discharge system that consists of multiple pumps and sump collection points that drain water out of the tunnel and into the New York City municipal sewer system. During Superstorm Sandy, the Lincoln Tunnel did not flood, unlike many other under-river tunnels around Manhattan.

Regular routine maintenance keeps the Lincoln Tunnel in a state of good repair, allowing millions of personal autos, commercial trucks and commuter buses to cross between New York and New Jersey each year, ensuring that interstate commerce flows freely. Even with pandemic-related travel restrictions in place, more than 700,000 vehicles took the Lincoln Tunnel into New York in May.

And all of the drivers and passengers can drive with confidence that the Lincoln Tunnel of real life – not a Hollywood fiction — will continue to transport them safely to dry ground.

“The Lincoln Tunnel is a critical link between New York and New Jersey for people who live and work in both states and for the supply chain for the entire region,” said Gerard Lindenmeier, the general manager of the Lincoln Tunnel. “Our goal is, and will always be, to maintain the Lincoln Tunnel so that it’s safe for everyone to use for many more decades to come.”

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