Happy Birthday Holland Tunnel: Your gift to New York and New Jersey is a united region and a stronger economy
New Jersey commuters please take note. One of the critical transportation arteries that transformed the State of New Jersey, helped create jobs, an enormous investment and a sustained economy, opened 83 years ago. Someone had a vision of what could be, had the will to drive that vision to reality, and had the commitment to put dollars into a hole in the ground to create positive and profound change that empowers two neighboring states every day. It's the Holland Tunnel, built by members of the General Contractors Association.
The link is named after the engineer who was the driving force behind the automotive tunnel, Clifford Holland, who was the internationally recognized expert in tunnel construction, an advocate so widely respected that his name is on the portals of the tunnel he championed.
There were naysayers of course. It was reported by the contemporary press that Thomas Edison said this tunnel couldn't be built because he thought it impossible to clear the auto exhaust from a tunnel over 8,000 feet long. This recognized genius was proven wrong of course, and the New Jersey Interstate Bridge and Tunnel Commission and the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission appropriated funds for what they called the "Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel Project." Workmen of the GCA broke ground at the corner of Manhattan's Canal and West Streets in March of 1920, beginning the era of the suburban community and commuting to a central business district.
The Holland Tunnel was once known as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Engineering reports speak to the revolutionary transverse air flow introduced into the tunnel design. The record celebrates how some 51,694 cars paid the equivalent of $6.19 in today's cash to drive through on opening day along with a host of other statistics. For planners of that era of steel and concrete, the Holland only confirmed what they knew, that the New York metropolitan area would be stronger than the sum of its parts and that public infrastructure would ensure its global leadership. One result from building the Holland Tunnel was the decision to move forward with a design that would be called the George Washington Bridge.
The recent decision to kill the proposed transit tunnel beneath the Hudson needs to be viewed within the same historic context that allows us to appreciate the construction of the Holland Tunnel. Beginning in the 1920s, and lasting until the eve of World War II, elected officials and the public recognized the strategic role of public construction, its galvanizing effect on their local economies and their region's quality of life. It is only in the last 18 months that public infrastructure has been hijacked as a political issue and allowed to become an ideological divide that obscures the genuine role of roads, bridges, tunnels and water systems in promoting and protecting our society. It is a self destructive trend and one that, if permitted to continue, will begin to erode the global prominence the New York - New Jersey region has enjoyed for nearly a century.
One last historic footnote that may provide some guidance for today's transportation planners. Published news reports announcing the start of the tunnel's construction on the Manhattan side noted that while engineers expect to finish on time, "excavating on the Jersey side (will begin) as soon as city ordinances are passed."