Rockland County and (unrelated) Tunnel History

Sign indicating Exit 12 off the New York State Thruway is © 2001, Jeff Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Sign indicating Exit 12 off the New York State Thruway is © 2001, Jeff Saltzman. All rights reserved.

I’ve been paying attention to the staging area by Exit 10, the lanes of traffic in each direction, and a bus rapid transit lane (in my mind’s eye). Since I wrote about the tunnel in Westchester County, I’ll show where it would have been built here.

Exit 12 (West Nyack – NY Route 303 – Palisades Center Drive) is home to the mall — which sees me a lot more since JCPenney® moved out of White Plains — and a very busy intersection. How to imagine a tunnel opening here?

So I’ll talk about one instead, and leave Rockland County’s bridge-bordering landscape unscathed on paper.

Formally named the Clifford Milburn Holland Tunnel, after its first chief engineer, the Holland Tunnel was initially called the Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel or the Canal Street Tunnel. Once the longest underwater tunnel for (all together now) vehicles, it was the first ever with a ventilation system that could specifically handle car and truck exhaust fumes.

The $54 million price tag included two tubes — 1.62-mile north and a 1.58-mile south — that combined are slightly longer than the three-mile Tappan Zee Bridge ($80.8 million, including structure and approaches).

Back then, the process for bidding and contracts was very different; Governor Andrew Cuomo signed design-build legislation in December 2011.

Holland and his team overcame many previously unsolved tunnel engineering problems, however he died before the tunnel was finished. Eerily, his successor, Milton Freeman, died five months later, and the project was completed under its third chief engineer, Ole Singstad.

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ Metropolitan Section said Holland — its director from 1922 until his death — had a nervous breakdown five years into the project “as a result of the tremendous stress demanded by the work, having spent long hours working at this desk and in the compressed air of the tubes.”

Oh no!

He was sent to a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, for rest and died of heart disease “just two days before the tunnel was to be holed through.” The planned celebration was cancelled, and the two sides “were joined together without fanfare, even though Holland’s mathematical calculations led them to meeting within a fraction of an inch (1 cm) of each other.”

Yet according to the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, “In 1924, just one day before the two sides were scheduled to meet, Holland died at the age of 41 from complications during a tonsillectomy.”

Not only was the tunnel calculation off; the date and circumstances surrounding Holland’s death didn’t match, and the tunnel bearing his name opened twice (on November 12, 1927, per the ASCE Metropolitan Section, and the following day, according to The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey).

Remember, plans began in 1906 with the appointment of joint commissions in New York and New Jersey to build a Hudson River crossing. It was full steam ahead after a March 31, 1922, groundbreaking ceremony at the foot of Canal Street; the Holland Tunnel opened more than five years later.

We’re talking about a structure slightly more than half the length of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2013

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