2005-12-07 / Star Journal

Sixty-five Years Ago...

Photo from the archives of the MTA.
Photo from the archives of the MTA. On November 15, 1940 the Queens–Midtown Tunnel opened as the largest non-federal public works project in the nation. During the four years it took to build the tunnel, several commercial photographers took over 4,600 photographs to document the progress of each aspect of its construction. The photographs were mounted on cloth and bound into albums with the subject, date, location and other information typed on the back of each mounted page.

These pages, plus numerous publicity photos made during the tunnel’s construction and early years of operation, provide valuable insights about how the tunnel was built, those who built it and the era they lived in. Today these photographs are housed in the MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archive.

Traffic between Midtown Manhattan and the rapidly growing regions of Queens and Long Island was already clogging the East River bridges in the 1920’s. To relieve this congestion, the city and civic groups began developing plans for a new East River crossing to Midtown. The first official preliminary plan for what was to become the Queens Midtown Tunnel was prepared by the Manhattan borough president in 1926.

After nearly a decade of seeking funding for the tunnel, financing was finally made available by the New Deal programs of the Public Works Administration (PWA). The PWA mandated that projects it funded be self-liquidating and self-funding, requirements met by making the tunnel a toll facility. In 1935, the state legislature passed an act permitting the tunnel’s construction and then Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia established the New York City Tunnel Authority to build and operate it.

“You are starting from scratch, with no appropriation and nothing but an idea and a law” the mayor announced as he appointed Alfred B. Jones, Albert T. Johnson and William H. Friedman to serve as the three uncompensated members of the authority. A loan of $41,400 from the city paid for preliminary plans and the PWA provided a loan of $47,130,000 and an outright grant of $11,235,000 to finance the tunnel’s construction.

Ole Singstad was appointed chief engineer for the project, Singstad had brought the Holland Tunnel to completion in 1927 as chief engineer after the death of its original Chief Engineer C.F. Holland. That tunnel, which runs between New York and New Jersey, was the first long subaqueous tunnel for vehicular traffic. Its successful pioneering ventilation system, designed by Singstad, established his reputation as the nation’s pre-eminent designer of tunnels for the automobile age.

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