Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tunnel Talk

I was walking along Jersey Avenue a few weeks ago when I came upon a box strapped to a fence.

Inside the folder were flyers like this:

I love this sort of thing. Remember when Michael Kraiger and I went to the talk on the Pulaski Skyway in 2007 before my last trip to Cairo? I ended up buying the speaker's book, which the two of us devoured in short order. The Pulaski Skyway is a glorious, crumbling disaster of infrastructure gone awry, a bit of highway made before anyone knew what exactly a highway was. 

But leading up to (or away from) the Pulaski Skyway is an engineering marvel, the Holland Tunnel, which opened up next to our friendly neighborhood PATH tunnel. (Which had already been there since 1908 and wasn't called the PATH then.)

I went to the Holland Tunnel talk last night, and it was fascinating. The workers basically bored two holes from either end using a giant shield from compressed air chambers, squishing out massive sausages of silt and muck to be carted away and dumped elsewhere, building the tunnel as they bored. This had been done before but never with the question of how to get air in and out, so people didn't get carbon monoxide poisoning. Engineers of the Holland Tunnel solved this with ventilation and giant fans, testing on themselves, Yale students, and dogs.

You couldn't do anything like this today. It's crazy. The question of where to put the muck alone would be argued for a year. And imagine testing on Yale students, with the key point being "Tell us when you get a headache, that'll determine when you've had too much carbon monoxide."

One reason there was enough demand to get such a huge project produced was the erratic Northeastern winters. When the Hudson froze, boats couldn't get coal to Manhattan. Which created public demand for not-freezing, which led to the innovation of an alternate route across the river.

Here's a short summary of what the speaker's book covers. And a short summary of my evening? Shawarma, Frogger, and the Holland Tunnel. A nearly perfect night by my standards. 

No comments: