Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel Celebrating 62 Years

On May 25th, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel celebrates its 62nd anniversary, but did you know that if Robert Moses had his way, the tunnel wouldn't have been built at all?

Moses originally wanted to build a bridge in the area but the idea was dismissed after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt objected, saying a bridge would ruin views and destroy parkland. So instead, the New York City Tunnel Authority began construction on the tunnel, designed by renowned engineer Ole Singstad, in October 1940.

Another idea that was also scrapped by the New York City Tunnel Authority was a proposal to build a 200-foot tall tower above the Brooklyn portal. The MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archive collection includes a drawing of the proposed tower, dated Aug. 13, 1942, showing the monolith with the word "TUNNEL" in the middle and an enormous arrow pointing down. The words "BROOKLYN" and "BATTERY" can be seen projecting from either side of the tower. There is no written record on why or when the idea was nixed.

Work on the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel project was halted for two-years during World War II because of the need for steel, iron and other construction materials for the war effort. When construction resumed in 1945 the project was taken over by Moses' Triborough Bridge Authority, which was the pre-cursor to the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. Moses' first order was to fire Singstad and hire engineer Ralph Smillie to finish the job.

It took more than 13 million hours of labor by teams of surveyors, engineers, draftsmen, laborers, sandhogs, ironworkers, carpenters and electricians to complete the tunnel. The last rock separating the tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan was "holed through" on Sept. 16, 1948. The tunnel was opened for business on May 25, 1950 with a motorcade of dignitaries led by Mayor William O'Dwyer and Moses. The toll was 35-cents.

The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which stretches 1.7 miles portal-to-portal, is still the longest continuous underwater vehicular tunnel in North America. It connects the Red Hook section of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan.

In 2011, nearly 16.6 million vehicles traveled through the tunnel.

Photo of Brooklyn toll plaza looking toward Manhattan, circa 1950
Brooklyn toll plaza looking toward Manhattan, circa 1950
Drawing of the proposed tower for the Brooklyn portal of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.
Drawing of the proposed tower for the Brooklyn portal of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Artist unknown. Aug. 13,1942
Photo of Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel workers from Brooklyn and Manhattan meet after
Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel workers from Brooklyn and Manhattan meet after "holing through" during excavation on Sept. 16, 1948