------------------------------------------------....................W.J. Holman's Unrealized Subaqueous Tunnel.........The Past Less Traveled
In the process of lamenting over the $1.3 billion cost of a still-unfinished BART back in 1971, a critic sarcastically labeled the system as “the commuter’s dream”, probably unknowing that sixty years before the same term was used to describe a wistful notion of constructing an early-day rendition of BART’s Transbay Tube under San Francisco Bay.
Just how much this ancient proposal inspired later thinking we can’t say, but the 1911 phrase permutation itself was a reference to the 1908 McAdoo twin tunnels under the Hudson between Manhattan and New Jersey. The Transbay dream was pretty much a concoction of a civic-minded San Francisco Chronicle editor, who put his “experts” and artists to work fleshing out what was likely only mere idle banter over port wine and cigars over at the Commercial Club.

The Chronicle’s envisioned the “The Commuter’s Dream” route running under San Francisco’s Market Street as far as Third Street, using the route later adopted by BART. Eastward from the Ferry Building station, the tunnel’s path ran slightly north of BART, and something more than 100 feet below Goat (Treasure) Island, the location of another station. The newspaper’s interest foundered at the Bay’s edge in Oakland, where the locational specifics of the tunnel’s eastern portal were left to the readers’ imagination.

The piece failed to arouse measurable popular support, even though it was accompanied by a very reasonable, but speculative $10 million price tag for the actual tunneling, exclusive of other infrastructure. Inflated into 1971 dollars, this was a mere $43 million. To anyone interested-enough to investigate, the cost quote must not have seemed as reasonable as much as it appeared to be absurdly low. The Hudson tubes cost $72 million and took three decades to complete (in the meantime being eclipsed in 1891 by Grand Trunk’s St. Claire River Tunnel as America’s first subaqueous railroad bore) but only after William Gibbs McAdoo - the lawyer who later headed USRA and who coincidentally was from California - rescued the project.

Converted into 1971 dollars, Mcadoo’s tunnels cost about $300 million, which made the Transbay Tubes, which came in at $180 million, a comparative bargain and certainly a positive spin on “the commuter’s dream” complaint.


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