Work on the first underwater highway tunnel in the United States began in Chicago, Illinois

Saturday 30th November 1867

Work on the first underwater highway tunnel in the United States began in Chicago, Illinois. Over a two-year period, workers and engineers tunnelled underneath the Chicago River, finally completing the 1,605-foot tunnel at a cost of over $500,000. The tunnel had two roadways, each 11-feet tall and 13-feet wide, and a separate footway 10-feet wide and 10-feet tall. This Washington Street tunnel opened on January 1, 1869, and was invaluable during the evacuation during the Chicago fire in 1871. Originally built of masonry with one lane for pedestrians and 2 lanes for horse-drawn traffic, by 1884 it was leaking and had been closed. In 1888 the West Chicago Street Railroad leased the tunnel. If they repaired it and built a vehicle bridge they could use the tunnel exclusively for cable car service. Construction began in 1888 and the tunnel was reopened August 12, 1890.

The reversing of the Chicago River in 1900 lowered the water level and exposed the roof of the tunnel in the riverbed. Several ships ran aground on it, damaging the roof. In 1904 the Federal government declared it a hazard to navigation, it was closed on August 19, 1906.

A wider, deeper concrete replacement was built under the original masonry. The approaches were deepened to a new lower tunnel level. The grades were aligned for the cars to enter from a shallow subway just below street level. The subway was not built, concrete ramps raised the tracks up to street grade.[3] George W. Jackson was the contractor for rebuilding the tunnel.

The tunnel reopened for electric streetcar service on January 29, 1911 and was in use until the end of streetcar service 1953. By 2013 both approaches had been covered.

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