November 15, 2015 marked the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Queens Midtown Tunnel. The tunnel is an indispensable link between Manhattan and Queens, the Long Island Expressway, and JFK and LaGuardia airports. Its four lanes carry 80,000 vehicles a day. Few drivers in these 80,000 vehicles, however, were likely among those breaking open champagne bottles in celebration. Drivers are more concerned with getting in the tunnel, creeping through the tunnel, and getting out at the other end, at a toll of $8 per trip.
Midtown Tunnel loyalists must envy the celebration of the Brooklyn Bridge’s 100th anniversary in 1986. Flotillas of boats anchored in the East River to witness a massive fireworks display set off from the bridge. The bridge was spruced up and Mayor Edward I. Koch and every other elected official attended. At the Williamsburg Bridge’s 100th anniversary in 2003 Mayor Michael Bloomberg officiated at a less festive ceremony at the Brooklyn end which was attended by about 200 people, a high school band, a few food booths and children’s games. Even less celebratory, the Washington Bridge’s 100th anniversary in 1989 brought together a few community board members and DOT workers. They gathered on the arched bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx where each got a brass medal with a small image of the bridge. Similar greater or lesser events marked anniversaries of the Lincoln Tunnel, the Verrazano Bridge and other structures.
The City would be better off if it could generate more enthusiasm for the milestones associated with the bridges and tunnels that make the City work. There was a time when building infrastructure was the main business of state and local government. The extension of the Flushing Line and the first leg of the Second Avenue Subway show how difficult it is to build, and, by implication, how much we owe the engineers and builders who put this City together.
So on November 15, 2015 I raised a glass of champagne for the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Upcoming are the 75th anniversary of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in 2025, and the 100th anniversary of the Holland Tunnel in 2027. These celebrations, modest though they may be, remind elected officials and the caretakers of the bridges and tunnels that their job is as urgent and important as were the jobs of the original builders. Thank you.