Holland’s Tunnel

Leo Bellino and Courtney Masters

The majestic 1.6 mile long Holland Tunnel is one of two underwater engineering marvels that connect Jersey City and New York City. The other being the nearby Hudson Tunnels now part of the Path Subway system. The tunnel project was destined to alter interstate exchange forever.

Named after chief engineer Clifford M. Holland, Holland was the first chief engineer on the Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel Project. A graduate of Harvard University with a Bachelor’s of Science in civil engineering, Holland began his career in New York City working as assistant engineer on the construction of the Joralemon Street tunnel, after which he served as engineer in charge of construction on the Clark Street tunnel, 60th Street tunnel and the 14th Street tunnel.

The tunnel is one of the earliest examples of a mechanically ventilated design with 84 fans in four ventilation buildings create a floor to ceiling air flow across the roadway at regular intervals. A forced ventilation system is essential because of carbon monoxide in automobile exhaust. The tunnel consists of a pair of tubes, each providing two lanes in a 20 foot roadway width and 12.5 feet of head room. The north tube is 8,558 feet from end to end while the south tube is slightly shorter at 8,371 feet. Both tubes are situated in a bead rock beneath the river with the lowest point of the roadway approximately 93 feet or 28 miles beneath 5the surface of the water.

Tunnel construction requires workers to spend long amounts of time in the caisson under high pressure which was thought to be necessary to prevent river water from entering the tube prior to completion. Sandhogs when exiting the tunnel had to undergo controlled decompression to avoid the bends. Fortunately, no workers died as a result of decompression sickness, 756,000 decompressions of tunnel workers coming out of the compressed air workings, which resulted in 528 cases of the bends, non fatal.

Chief Engineer Clifford M. Holland tragically died before the tunnel was completed. Holland died of a heart attack while undergoing a tonsillectomy at the age of 41. The heart attack that killed him was attributed in part to the stress of working on the tunnel. The project was renamed the Holland Tunnel in his memory by the Bridge and Tunnel Commission of New York and New Jersey. In 1984 because of its valuable contribution to tunnel design and construction, the Holland Tunnel was designated a National Historic Engineering Land Mark and in 1993 it was designated a National Historic Land Mark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The methods used to design and build the Holland Tunnel still form the basis for construction of many underwater vehicular tunnels throughout the world.

Bibliography and credits

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p.25-26 “There are roughly three types of New Yorkers. First,[…]Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night.”


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