Soon after the Port Authority of NY & NJ acquired the Holland Tunnel in 1930, New York and New Jersey authorized the agency to proceed with its plan to build what was then called the Midtown Hudson Tunnel. Creating a 1.5-mile-long structure, even above ground, would be no small accomplishment, but to build it under a riverbed was a monumental task. Hundreds of huge iron rings, each weighing 21 tons, had to be assembled and bolstered together on-site to form the lining of the tunnel.
The work of the sandhogs—as workers who dig tunnels are still colloquially known—was dangerous, claustrophobic and tedious. Just entering and exiting the tunnel was time-consuming. Crews entered air locks, one at a time, after which the doors at each end were sealed. An air pipe started hissing, and the men's ears would pop as the air pressure climbed until it equaled that of the adjoining lock. The workers were then able to safely open the connecting door and crowd into the next section, where the entire ordeal would be repeated. Once at the forward end of the tunnel, the men had to work swiftly because they could handle the pressure only briefly. Compression and decompression had to be reached in safe, short increments.
Inside the tunnel, rock drills roared, tram cars rattled back and forth and air lines hissed as the shield pushed the tunnel forward until it could be braced like the hull of a ship. Through this din, men bolted rings into place, poured cement behind the new lining to seal out the river, prepared for the next shove, and dynamited in front of the shield when the going got tough.
While one crew worked from the Jersey side, another proceeded toward them from the New York side. Alignment of both ends vertically and horizontally took considerable engineering skill and care. The first "hole through" was achieved on August 3, 1935, when a hydraulic engineer in the New Jersey end was pushed by his feet through an opening to meet the New York crew.
The first tube of the Lincoln Tunnel-the center tube-opened to traffic two years later, on December 22, 1937. The north and south tubes opened on February 1, 1945, and May 25, 1957, respectively.
On December 18, 1970, the Port Authority of NY & NJ opened the Exclusive Bus Lane (XBL), a 2.5-mile contra-flow bus lane that travels along NJ Route 495 leading from the NJ Turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel (LT). When opened, the XBL was the first contra-flow bus lane on a freeway in the United States, and it led to the later implementation of several similar operations here and in other states. Each weekday morning, the 2.5-mile XBL dedicates a westbound travel lane to eastbound buses, essentially making the Lincoln Tunnel a mass-transit facility for morning commuters. The XBL serves over 1,700 buses a day, carrying more than 62,000 passengers to midtown Manhattan every weekday morning.
E-ZPass, an electronic form of toll collection, was first introduced at the Lincoln Tunnel on October 28, 1997.
The Port Authority of NY & NJ continues to operate and maintain this facility, while seeking new and innovative ways to process an ever-increasing volume of traffic safely and more efficiently. Future plans include the rehabilitation of the "Helix," the series of entry ramps to the tunnel on the New Jersey side.