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codyg1985

Birmingham Big-Dig: Burying I-20/59 through downtown

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Birmingham planners wish to have I-20/59 buried in a cut-and-cover style tunnel beside the BJCC where the elevated portion of I-20/59 currently stands. With the recent news about engineering and construction flaws in Boston's Big Dig, do you guys think that Birmingham and ALDOT should pursue burying I-20/59?

I think that it should definately be pursued. Currently the elevated portion of the interstate is an eyesore. It presents a virtual and physical barrier between the BJCC and the rest of downtown. Moreover, the current facility can't be expanded any further unless buildings beside it are demolished to make room for additional lanes, or if another bridge is constructed directly on top of the existing bridge to create a double-decker freeway. The former option would not be desirable because it would take away more real estate and demolish buildings, and the latter option isn't desirable because it would create even more of an obstruction and an eyesore than what's already present.

Building a tunnel would allow for an expanded facility from the current six-lane configuration. It would also eliminate the viaduct through downtown, connecting the BJCC and Alabama Sports Hall of Fame to downtown. The viaduct could be replaced with a tree-lined boulevard to facilitate traffic from the interstate wishing to access downtown. All exits would be relocated to either end of the tunnel, which would run from the eastern end of Malfunction Junction with I-65 through downtown to emerge east of the US 31/Red Mountain Expressway interchange complex.

Needless to say, constructing this will present a challenge on how to direct traffic. One option is to shut down the interstate all together and redirect through traffic interests to I-459. The interstate would be closed at I-65 and at Red Mountain Expressway so that commuters could access downtown without too many problems. Similar construction methods have been employed in Indianapolis with I-74. This method will also be used to reconstruct I-40 through Knoxville. This method, known as a QuickFix or SmartFix, would save time and money because effort will not have to be spent mitigating traffic flow during construction. This option would become more desirable when the Northern Beltline is completed and we are all dead and buried.

Another alternative to burying the interstate would be to demolish the elevated portion completely and direct through traffic around the city. I don't know about the merits to this idea, but it would make certain that no more steel coils would fall on Birmingham's interstates. It would also eliminate the ugly eyesore that is the elevated portion of I-20/59 through downtown Birmingham.

What do you guys think?

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Birmingham planners wish to have I-20/59 buried in a cut-and-cover style tunnel beside the BJCC where the elevated portion of I-20/59 currently stands. With the recent news about engineering and construction flaws in Boston's Big Dig, do you guys think that Birmingham and ALDOT should pursue burying I-20/59?

I think that it should definately be pursued. Currently the elevated portion of the interstate is an eyesore. It presents a virtual and physical barrier between the BJCC and the rest of downtown. Moreover, the current facility can't be expanded any further unless buildings beside it are demolished to make room for additional lanes, or if another bridge is constructed directly on top of the existing bridge to create a double-decker freeway. The former option would not be desirable because it would take away more real estate and demolish buildings, and the latter option isn't desirable because it would create even more of an obstruction and an eyesore than what's already present.

Building a tunnel would allow for an expanded facility from the current six-lane configuration. It would also eliminate the viaduct through downtown, connecting the BJCC and Alabama Sports Hall of Fame to downtown. The viaduct could be replaced with a tree-lined boulevard to facilitate traffic from the interstate wishing to access downtown. All exits would be relocated to either end of the tunnel, which would run from the eastern end of Malfunction Junction with I-65 through downtown to emerge east of the US 31/Red Mountain Expressway interchange complex.

Needless to say, constructing this will present a challenge on how to direct traffic. One option is to shut down the interstate all together and redirect through traffic interests to I-459. The interstate would be closed at I-65 and at Red Mountain Expressway so that commuters could access downtown without too many problems. Similar construction methods have been employed in Indianapolis with I-74. This method will also be used to reconstruct I-40 through Knoxville. This method, known as a QuickFix or SmartFix, would save time and money because effort will not have to be spent mitigating traffic flow during construction. This option would become more desirable when the Northern Beltline is completed and we are all dead and buried.

Another alternative to burying the interstate would be to demolish the elevated portion completely and direct through traffic around the city. I don't know about the merits to this idea, but it would make certain that no more steel coils would fall on Birmingham's interstates. It would also eliminate the ugly eyesore that is the elevated portion of I-20/59 through downtown Birmingham.

What do you guys think?

First of all I don't think it is economically feasible, and with all we need in this city a 'big dig' should not even be under consideration. I read about this several months ago and my first thought was "I hope we didn't pay for that idea".

I think a better solution is to re-route I-59/20 north of the civic center, build a new I-65/59/20 interchange and a new I-59/20 - Red Mountain Expressway Interchange.

Then extend Red Mountain Expressway northward and tie-in to I-65 at about the Hiway 31 interchange at Fultondale. Create an interchange at this location that would also connect with I-22.

Then the exisitng I-59/20 through downtown could be torn down.

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sounds wonderful just one problemo

ALDOT

They are unable to do such a project :cry:

way beyond them, plus they have no money and no schedule.

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I recently moved to Boston, and I can tell you this.....the Big Dig was worth every penny and maybe twice that much.

The neighborhood that I live in here, wouldn't exist in any real form without the Big Dig.....it merged two parts of the city that hadn't had any relationship in years and has blended them.

While the work on the surface streets is ongoing, I can say that it has encouraged tons of new development in what was otherwise undesirable land, improved traffic flow by about 300%-400% (in terms of average speed), and created useful public space where there was once drab metal siding hiding a interstate.

Granted, I moved to Boston once a majority of the work was completed (but remember the days of an elevated I-93) so there has been little hassle for me, but IMO it has been the single best investment in any city since WW2.

....

Interstate serving downtown provided a valuable function during the 60's, 70's, and 80's where "white flight" was rampant, and for downtown to survive, quick/safe access that bypassed the "ghetto" was essential for downtown survival. Now that intown neighborhoods once again become desirable, crime is down, etc., it is important to bring back what was lost in term of urban infrastructure......

All that said, mass transit is a better use of limited dollars.

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I recently moved to Boston, and I can tell you this.....the Big Dig was worth every penny and maybe twice that much.

The neighborhood that I live in here, wouldn't exist in any real form without the Big Dig.....it merged two parts of the city that hadn't had any relationship in years and has blended them.

While the work on the surface streets is ongoing, I can say that it has encouraged tons of new development in what was otherwise undesirable land, improved traffic flow by about 300%-400% (in terms of average speed), and created useful public space where there was once drab metal siding hiding a interstate.

Granted, I moved to Boston once a majority of the work was completed (but remember the days of an elevated I-93) so there has been little hassle for me, but IMO it has been the single best investment in any city since WW2.

....

Interstate serving downtown provided a valuable function during the 60's, 70's, and 80's where "white flight" was rampant, and for downtown to survive, quick/safe access that bypassed the "ghetto" was essential for downtown survival. Now that intown neighborhoods once again become desirable, crime is down, etc., it is important to bring back what was lost in term of urban infrastructure......

All that said, mass transit is a better use of limited dollars.

yeah it's an engineering marvel, but who decided to hang 12 ton panels from the ceiling with metal rods

especially in a salt air environment?

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I think a better solution is to re-route I-59/20 north of the civic center, build a new I-65/59/20 interchange and a new I-59/20 - Red Mountain Expressway Interchange.

Problem with that is that it cuts through historic neighborhoods that over the past few years have been on the rebound.

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I think they should go forward with it. Since this is an inland "dig" it wouldn't face the same problems that Boston's does. It would make the downtown area much more beautiful and pleasing. I think it's vital to the re-invention of Downtown Birmingham.

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I think they should go forward with it. Since this is an inland "dig" it wouldn't face the same problems that Boston's does. It would make the downtown area much more beautiful and pleasing. I think it's vital to the re-invention of Downtown Birmingham.

Well, while the water table in Birmingham is probably not as high as Boston's, it would have something to do with the composition and type of soil in the area. While a cut-and-cover tunnel is not technically a tunnel, the type of soil plays a huge role in getting a tunnel built.

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Well, while the water table in Birmingham is probably not as high as Boston's, it would have something to do with the composition and type of soil in the area. While a cut-and-cover tunnel is not technically a tunnel, the type of soil plays a huge role in getting a tunnel built.

I have to agree with Rolltider...

If you look at an arial photo of Birmingham, there is greenbelt that runs from just south of Finley Blvd on 65 to where the CSX lines underpass 20/59. Without disturbing too many residents, you could easily build a 6-8 lane highway to replace the downtown 20/59 area at BJCC. This solves several problems, primary of these is the horrible design of 65/20/59 interchange. You can create outer lanes from the downtown interchange north to the new interchange much like Atlanta does and technically never have 20/59 overlaying 65. You keep them seperated just as 285 & 85 are in southwest Atlanta.

This would also allow eastbound traffic from 22 to avoid downtown altogether by exiting onto 20/59 before they reached downtown.

As for what to do with the 20/59 corridor downtown once the road is rerouted, you turn it into a surface street/boulevard again with a linear park to connect the BJCC and Downtoan. Red Mountain Expressway could be extended using the exisitng 20/59 to connect with the new 20/59 and then given an interstate spur number (159, 559, 959). Red Mountain would continue to feed 31 North and the existing ramps to 20/59 south/west could be converted to feed the new downtown Boulevard in order to provide direct access to the Downtown/BJCC area.

I know, it's a huge pipedream... But I'm good at dreaming.

Anyone with some graphics capability to draw up a quick image of what I'm saying, feel free. I tried finding a good b-ham map without any luck.

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Well, while the water table in Birmingham is probably not as high as Boston's, it would have something to do with the composition and type of soil in the area. While a cut-and-cover tunnel is not technically a tunnel, the type of soil plays a huge role in getting a tunnel built.

Yes, the soil type is very much like the soil that Boston had to deal with. I just love looking over the bay while the sun is setting over Red Mountain. Don't you??? Haha

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I have to agree with Rolltider...

If you look at an arial photo of Birmingham, there is greenbelt that runs from just south of Finley Blvd on 65 to where the CSX lines underpass 20/59. Without disturbing too many residents, you could easily build a 6-8 lane highway to replace the downtown 20/59 area at BJCC. This solves several problems, primary of these is the horrible design of 65/20/59 interchange. You can create outer lanes from the downtown interchange north to the new interchange much like Atlanta does and technically never have 20/59 overlaying 65. You keep them seperated just as 285 & 85 are in southwest Atlanta.

This would also allow eastbound traffic from 22 to avoid downtown altogether by exiting onto 20/59 before they reached downtown.

As for what to do with the 20/59 corridor downtown once the road is rerouted, you turn it into a surface street/boulevard again with a linear park to connect the BJCC and Downtoan. Red Mountain Expressway could be extended using the exisitng 20/59 to connect with the new 20/59 and then given an interstate spur number (159, 559, 959). Red Mountain would continue to feed 31 North and the existing ramps to 20/59 south/west could be converted to feed the new downtown Boulevard in order to provide direct access to the Downtown/BJCC area.

I know, it's a huge pipedream... But I'm good at dreaming.

Anyone with some graphics capability to draw up a quick image of what I'm saying, feel free. I tried finding a good b-ham map without any luck.

You know... that idea is actually worth exploring. Unfortunately, it wold require a lot of residents to be displaced since the areas surrounding downtown are very dense. But given the benefits of such a project, I think it's a necessary evil. I'm especially interested in the Downtown Boulevard idea. Images of wide thoroughfares flanked by impressive buildings, such as Canal Street, come to my mind. I would not relocate I-20/59 as far north as your idea calls for for fear of placing to many commuters out of there way. However, I think a modest shift north (above Oak Hill Cemetary, the BJCC, and below Carraway Hospital) would be ideal. Couple this with a downtown Spur (a la San Francisco) and I think you have a noble solution on your hands. I'll try to conjure up a map of this later on.

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You know... that idea is actually worth exploring. Unfortunately, it wold require a lot of residents to be displaced since the areas surrounding downtown are very dense. But given the benefits of such a project, I think it's a necessary evil. I'm especially interested in the Downtown Boulevard idea. Images of wide thoroughfares flanked by impressive buildings, such as Canal Street, come to my mind. I would not relocate I-20/59 as far north as your idea calls for for fear of placing to many commuters out of there way. However, I think a modest shift north (above Oak Hill Cemetary, the BJCC, and below Carraway Hospital) would be ideal. Couple this with a downtown Spur (a la San Francisco) and I think you have a noble solution on your hands. I'll try to conjure up a map of this later on.

The reason I thought so far north is because of the wide tree line that would reduce the actual number of displaced residents. Locating any further south of that line would displace a much larger number as you note.

(http://maps.google.com/maps?oi=map&q=35203)

This map shows quite well the location I'm referring to easily. Just southeast of the intersection of Finley/I-65 is a small body of water, this would be my suggestion of where 20/59 leaves 65. It would continue along the railroad track you see there to just south of 27th Avenue at the "X" crossing of tracks. At that point, it would turn southeast and remain in the fairly empty industrial area back towards the present 20/59.

As I previously stated, the currently elevated portion of 20/59 from 65 to Red Mountain could be demolished and turned into a downtown Boulevard (much like Canal Street as you mention) with the remaining section of 20/59 being integrated into the Red Mountain Expressway so as to still tie directly into the newly aligned 20/59.

This alignment would also take some of the heaviest east-west traffic away from downtown and would provide the opportunity to rework Malfunction Junction into a more proper and viable interchange for the loads of traffic it carries.

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The reason I thought so far north is because of the wide tree line that would reduce the actual number of displaced residents. Locating any further south of that line would displace a much larger number as you note.

(http://maps.google.com/maps?oi=map&q=35203)

This map shows quite well the location I'm referring to easily. Just southeast of the intersection of Finley/I-65 is a small body of water, this would be my suggestion of where 20/59 leaves 65. It would continue along the railroad track you see there to just south of 27th Avenue at the "X" crossing of tracks. At that point, it would turn southeast and remain in the fairly empty industrial area back towards the present 20/59.

As I previously stated, the currently elevated portion of 20/59 from 65 to Red Mountain could be demolished and turned into a downtown Boulevard (much like Canal Street as you mention) with the remaining section of 20/59 being integrated into the Red Mountain Expressway so as to still tie directly into the newly aligned 20/59.

This alignment would also take some of the heaviest east-west traffic away from downtown and would provide the opportunity to rework Malfunction Junction into a more proper and viable interchange for the loads of traffic it carries.

Okay... I see exactly what you're saying. However, the "tree line" you refer to is actually Village Creek. (It took me the longest to figure out that's what you were referring to... I thought I was missing something. :D ) In any case, I'm not too sure the tampering of Village Creek would bode well with people -- especially our many zealous environmentalists.

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I think the recommendation, that we consider moving the interstate below grade, is a very good one. I'll offer a few points to answer criticisms I've heard.

Criticism: We don't need a big dig here.

Answer: No kidding! But this proposal is NOTHING AT ALL LIKE BOSTON'S BIG DIG. It's a tiny tiny fraction of the scale of that project. It's actually a very simple and elegant proposal and involves no more complicated engineering than is commonplace in highway design -- retaining walls and bridges. There are no tunnels in the proposal.

Criticism: It's too expensive.

Answer: That remains to be seen. The planner's research indicated that the existing bridge would need replacement in 5-10 years anyway. If you factor that in, along with the economic benefits of having newly-developable sites near the interstate and a more inviting "front door" for events at the BJCC and the museum, then it might be just as rational to believe that we can't afford NOT to do this.

Criticism: It would choke traffic

Answer: The planners argue that, by simplifying access between the city and the interstate using their parkway system, that merging and exiting would be greatly improved through the downtown area, helping the lanes flow smoothly. And while a dropped steel coil would probably close down one direction for a while, the repair of a below-grade surface is a little more straightforward than a series of holes punched through a bridge. Combine that with the reduced load that is expected in the long term after the northern beltline is completed, and traffic volume begins to recede among the priorities for design.

There are legitimate engineering concerns to be addressed, but remember, this is part of a master plan, not a detailed design. It's value is in giving us a vision of something that we might not have otherwise considered -- something with the potential to eliminate a wide range of current problems and enhance the appeal of being downtown. There are not so many opportunities to accomplish that much with one project that we should give this one short shrift. Let's be open minded and see what we can do.

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I believe the lowering of I-20/59 below the grade would be the best idea. I know from my engineering course that Birmingham sits above numerous underground caverns and mines that could easily collaspe if a tunnel was build. However, I would be a lot safer if they just lower the grade instead.

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I believe the lowering of I-20/59 below the grade would be the best idea. I know from my engineering course that Birmingham sits above numerous underground caverns and mines that could easily collaspe if a tunnel was build.

There was never a proposal to create a tunnel. And though you are right about limestone caverns, there are no mines along the route of I20/59 downtown.

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There are legitimate engineering concerns to be addressed, but remember, this is part of a master plan, not a detailed design. There are not so many opportunities to accomplish that much with one project that we should give this one short shrift. Let's be open minded and see what we can do.

has this been talked about in any official capacity? anything even close? focus groups; a community committee backing it, etc.? i would LOVE to see that this has been floated as a serious option. if elevated limited access on 280 can get high attendance at over-the-mountain meetings, then this idea should merit a zillion times more attention.

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has this been talked about in any official capacity? anything even close? focus groups; a community committee backing it, etc.? i would LOVE to see that this has been floated as a serious option. if elevated limited access on 280 can get high attendance at over-the-mountain meetings, then this idea should merit a zillion times more attention.

The idea is part of the "City Center Master Plan" commissioned by the City of Birmingham as part of the citywide comprehensive planning process. The plan was prepared by Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh and presented to the city in October 2004. The last I heard it was "under review" and to my knowledge has not been formally adopted. It was mentioned in the Kincaid's State of the City Address in January 2006.

You can view the (very large) PDF here.

Questions about its adoption should probably go to your council representative. Questions about implementation could go to Bill Gilchrist as the City's Department of Planning, Engineering and Permits, and specifically about the I-20/I-59 proposal, to the Birmingham Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is the group that must request funding from ALDOT for highway projects. I'm not sure I can make sense of the MPO's Long Range (2030) plan (available here), but it looks like "#10670,Bridge Repl on I-59 Over US-31,Railroad,Cty [email protected] Center Str No. I-59-37-24.1A" may refer to the area in question. The report indicates that MPO expects to request $17 million in funding from ALDOT for bridge replacement during fiscal year 2010.

And in fact, this page at dot.state.al.us indicates a project by that name is planned under the "IM98 STEA INTERSTATE MAINTENANCE PROGRAM" with a projected cost of $680,000 to $1,020,000 in FY 2009 and another $16 to $20 million in FY 2010.

So what it looks like will happen is that the City will smile and clap their hands at all the pretty pictures in the master plan, but in the meantime some sort of maintenance work, ranging somewhere between $17 and $21 million of repairs or replacement will be contracted out to preserve the ugly, noisy, confusing condition of I20/59 through downtown.

What happened with 280 is that ALDOT had a plan for adding elevated lanes, but were completely shut down by public pressure, so they more or less threw up their hands and the Regional Planning Commission formed "Progress 280" out of the former Horizon 280 to meet monthly and try to decide on what solution would piss people off the least, and then MPO would submit that project back to ALDOT with the idea that Progress 280 had already done all the public relations work and they could just get to work on it. (Note: I am a mostly ignorant lay observer getting my info third and fourth hand).

So, is something similar the best route for the City Center Master Plan? Seems like if it is, that City Hall would need to take the lead on bringing the public's interest to bear on the outlay of state funds. Who should we start pestering? At least let's make it an issue in the 2007 election. (So ya'll stop murdering each other so we can talk about progress instead of Satan's handiwork)

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Oak Hill Cemetery prevents the most logical solution to the problem, if it weren't for that you could take the land in between 11th and 12th Avenue N and starting at about 31st Street just blaze it north of the BJCC and tie back in with a brand new interchange with I-65. But since disturbing the dead is not a viable option I would think that a cut and cover works well, especially if combined with local traffic/through traffic seperation and a brand new "Malfunction Junction", which we could rename "Functional Junction".

Whatever plan they decide on they must get a new I-65 interchange.

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Oak Hill Cemetery prevents the most logical solution to the problem, if it weren't for that you could take the land in between 11th and 12th Avenue N and starting at about 31st Street just blaze it north of the BJCC and tie back in with a brand new interchange with I-65. But since disturbing the dead is not a viable option I would think that a cut and cover works well, especially if combined with local traffic/through traffic seperation and a brand new "Malfunction Junction", which we could rename "Functional Junction".

Whatever plan they decide on they must get a new I-65 interchange.

We're gonna have to rename "Malfunction Junction", "Mega-Malfunction Junction" once I-22 is finished, it's going to be really close to the I-65, I-20/59 interchange. Lord, it's gonna be big.

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We're gonna have to rename "Malfunction Junction", "Mega-Malfunction Junction" once I-22 is finished, it's going to be really close to the I-65, I-20/59 interchange. Lord, it's gonna be big.

The interchanges won't be that close together, I-22 will tie in about a mile north of 41st Ave, about 2 1/2-3 miles north of MF Junction.

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The interchanges won't be that close together, I-22 will tie in about a mile north of 41st Ave, about 2 1/2-3 miles north of MF Junction.

That's still quite close though. I don't know of many major interstates that interchange with another within that close proximity.

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This is a great idea and it needs to happen. Any amount of expense will be justified to undo the decades of damage done to the city by the construction of the current elevated interstate. North Birmingham was cut off from downtown and went from being a good neighborhood to a wasteland because of this. Birmingham needs to be reconnected, whatever the cost.

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Unfortunately, the cost and magnitude of a project like this would be incredible and probably would NEVER be supported by the majority of the state.

I think possibly a more feasible thing might be to re-route a little portion of I-20/59 that runs right through the middle of downtown. Move it a little further north and come back to tie in with the original route near the airport. This, too, would be an expensive proposition, but it might be worth taking a look at. Making anything underground is going to be astronomically expensive... particularly as large of a tunnel as it would have to be. I can see it now... all the political games and people polarizing the issue while comparing it to the Jersey's "Big Dig." Something needs to be done, clearly, but making it underground (even if it makes more sense) is going to be so unimaginably expensive.

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Unfortunately, the cost and magnitude of a project like this would be incredible and probably would NEVER be supported by the majority of the state.

I think possibly a more feasible thing might be to re-route a little portion of I-20/59 that runs right through the middle of downtown. Move it a little further north and come back to tie in with the original route near the airport. This, too, would be an expensive proposition, but it might be worth taking a look at. Making anything underground is going to be astronomically expensive... particularly as large of a tunnel as it would have to be. I can see it now... all the political games and people polarizing the issue while comparing it to the Jersey's "Big Dig." Something needs to be done, clearly, but making it underground (even if it makes more sense) is going to be so unimaginably expensive.

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