It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since all the doom and gloom predictions of things that were going to happen when the clocks turned midnight on December 31, 1999. Well, the sky did not fall, the banks did not collapse, and the world did not end. New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world were spectacular as we welcomed the new century! Now, we are nearly to the end of the teens and ready to start what was called the roaring 20s in the last century. Let’s hope these 20s are roaring, too!
It will be interesting to see what the 20s bring us in this century. I’m sure we can’t imagine what the future will hold any more than the people who watched the calendar change to 1900. Hopefully, we don’t find ourselves tunneling through more regulations like they tunneled through mountains in the last century! This reference brings us to our topic this month – tunnels! A few months ago, we looked at tunnels under the water, but this month I want to look at tunnels that go through mountains.
It was the Pennsylvania Turnpike that showed how beneficial tunneling could be to solve the problem of going over or around a mountain. When the turnpike opened in 1940, it was known as the “Tunnel Highway” because it traversed seven tunnels through seven mountains. The highway was reduced to one lane in each direction through each tunnel, which were originally built as part of the South Pennsylvania Railroad. By the late 1950s, the turnpike was so heavily used that the traffic demanded expansion because bottlenecks at the two-lane tunnels became a real problem. Today, many of those tunnels have been widened or bypassed altogether.
The highest vehicular tunnel is the famous Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70. Located 60 miles west of Denver, this 1.6-mile long tunnel carries I-70 under the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. The elevation at its east end is 11,013 feet, and it is 11,158 feet at the west portal. There is 1,496 feet of rock and earth above the tunnel at one point. Approximately 1 million cubic yards of rock and earth were removed from each bore. Each side has (2) 13’ wide lanes that took 190,000 yards of concrete to build. To mitigate the dangers posed by a fire inside the tunnel, trucks hauling hazardous materials are prohibited from using the tunnel. These prohibited trucks must take the longer and steeper climb and descent of the older U.S. Highway 6 across Loveland Pass, which is a very beautiful stretch of road.
Halfway between San Francisco and the East Bay the Yerba Buena Island Tunnel connects the two spans of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It’s the world’s widest single bore tunnel and has been open since 1936. This tunnel is a double-decker with 5 lanes on each level. The island duo of Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island are connected but one is natural and the other was man-made. Both are former naval sites and open to the public.
Stapleton International Airport in Denver, Colorado, which was replaced by Denver International Airport in 1995, had runways over I-70, creating a tunnel that had traffic driving under 747s heading out for takeoff or coming in from a landing. Similarly, the Sepulveda Boulevard Tunnel moves traffic under two runways and taxiways on the south side of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The third airport runway tunnel that I am most familiar with is the one in Atlanta on I-285 on the south side of the city. The tunnel is well-lit, night and day, and has huge exhaust fans to remove the fumes coming from the cars and trucks traveling along the interstate. It’s not uncommon for traffic to be at a standstill in this tunnel during rush hour or if there is an accident (or just because).
Another interesting place where you’ll find notable tunnels are in some of our National Parks – Yosemite and Zion, to name just two. Wawona Tunnel in Yosemite is 4,233 feet long (just under a mile) and was bored through the solid granite in 1933. It is the longest highway tunnel in California, and it exits, at its east portal, at the famous Tunnel View scenic viewpoint, which offers one of the best views of the entire Yosemite Valley. Zion National Park in southern Utah features a unique 1.1-mile long tunnel with “galleries” (windows) for light and ventilation. Opened in 1930, the Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel is positioned 21 feet in from the face of the solid rock wall of Pine Creek Canyon to the center line of the tunnel, and uniformly follows the canyon edge inside the mountain.
Most states restrict trucks to the right lane in tunnels and you must be extra careful when traveling through them. If someone next to you gets in your lane, in most cases, there is very little shoulder if any to use as an escape. When it’s raining or snowing outside, the traffic will make the road in the tunnel wet and slick, especially if it’s real cold. Slow down and take your time. A sign you often see at the entrance of longer tunnels (like the mile-long East River Mountain Tunnel on I-77 in Virginia and West Virginia) reads, “Take off your sunglasses” – and even though most are well-lit, it’s still a good idea to not only remove your shades but to also turn on your headlights.
As this year is almost over, take a look back and remember all the good times 2019 brought you. Put on a miner’s hat with a bright LED light and look into the tunnel that will soon be 2020. There is a light at the other end, and before we know it, we will be doing it all over again next December. Time flies!
We all make our own tunnels in this world, and the walls of the tunnels we drive through are covered with a lot of white tiles. Our walls are covered with pictures and memories of events that happen along our way through this crazy life. Not everyone can understand the lifestyle of a trucker, but to those of us who drive, it makes perfect sense! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our readers!!