The Queens–Midtown Tunnel (also sometimes called the Midtown Tunnel) is a vehicular tunnel under the East River connecting the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Queens. The west end of the tunnel is located in the East Side of Midtown Manhattan; it is also the western terminus of Interstate 495, the highway of which the tunnel is designated. The east end of the tunnel is located in Long Island City in Queens, where I-495 continues eastbound across Long Island. The tunnel is maintained by MTA Bridges and Tunnels.
The Queens–Midtown Tunnel was first planned in 1921. Over the following years, the plans for the tunnel were modified, and by the 1930s, the tunnel was being proposed as the Triborough Tunnel, a tunnel connecting Queens and Brooklyn with both the east and west sides of Manhattan. The New York City Tunnel Authority finally started construction on the tunnel in 1936, although by then, the plans had been downsized. The tunnel, designed by Ole Singstad, was opened to traffic on November 15, 1940.
The Queens–Midtown Tunnel is owned by New York City and operated by MTA Bridges and Tunnels, an affiliate agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It is used by several dozen express bus routes. Elephants in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Animal Walk also used the tunnel from 1981 to 2016.
The Queens–Midtown Tunnel consists of twin tubes each carrying two traffic lanes. The southern tube normally carries eastbound traffic to Queens, and the northern tube normally carries westbound traffic to Manhattan. During the morning rush hour, the southern tube is converted to a bidirectional tube, with a single eastbound lane and a westbound high-occupancy vehicle lane, while the northern tube carries two westbound lanes. The 6414ft northern tube is slightly longer than the 6272ft southern tube because, although the tubes share the same tunnel portal in Queens, they surface at two different locations at Manhattan.
The Queens–Midtown Tunnel's eastern end is in Long Island City, where the Long Island Expressway transitions from an elevated viaduct to the tunnel structure. A toll plaza was formerly located here. Exits 13 and 14 for the Long Island Expressway are located just east of the former toll plaza. Exit 13, located right underneath the Pulaski Bridge, contains an eastbound-only exit and entrance to and from Borden Avenue. Exit 14, at the same location, contains an eastbound exit and westbound entrance to the tunnel from New York State Route 25A (21st Street); there is no westbound exit, and the eastbound entrance is from Exit 13. Eastbound traffic entering from Exit 13 intersects with traffic exiting to Exit 14, which must stop and yield to each other. Westbound traffic entering from Exit 14 can enter the tunnel from either 21st Street or 50th Avenue. Although exits 13 and 14 are part of I-495's sequential exit-numbering system (as opposed to a mileage-based system), they are actually the first and second exits on I-495; the exits from the Manhattan side are not numbered.
The tunnel travels under the East River and aligns under 42nd Street on the Manhattan side, then curves south under First Avenue and then west at 38th Street. Its western end is in Midtown Manhattan between 36th and 37th Streets, east of Second Avenue.
Both tubes surface east of Second Avenue. The westbound roadway of the northern tube passes underneath Second Avenue, continuing west for half ablock splitting between Second and Third Avenues, where three exit ramps split. One ramp continues westbound to 37th Street, while two more extend south to 34th Street and north to 41st Street along Tunnel Exit Street. The northernmost block of Tunnel Exit Street, between 40th and 41st Streets, was sold to private interests in 1961 but continues to be in public use. The southern tube immediately rises to ground level, as it is fed directly by eastbound traffic on 36th Street, as well as from entrance ramps east of Second Avenue. These entrance ramps, collectively referred to as Tunnel Entrance Street, run between Second and First Avenues and continue south to 34th Street and north to 40th Street. Electronic toll gantries are located just outside the Manhattan portals.
Originally, the Manhattan side was also supposed to contain connections to the proposed Mid-Manhattan Expressway and to the East River (FDR) Drive, but neither were built. The Queens side was to have connected to an expressway that would have reached to the Rockaway Peninsula.
The tunnel was once designated as part of New York State Route 24. In the mid-1940s, NY 24 was routed to follow the Crosstown Connecting Highway (now the right-of-way of I-278) and Midtown Highway (now the Long Island Expressway, or I-495) to the Queens–Midtown Tunnel. It then continued through the tunnel to end at NY 1A in Manhattan. The Crosstown Connection Highway and the Midtown Highway were upgraded into the first portions of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway (BQE) and the Queens Midtown Expressway, respectively, in the early 1950s. At the time, the Queens Midtown Expressway ended at 61st Street. NY 24 was rerouted along the LIE between the Queens–Midtown Tunnel and Farmingdale, New York, in the late 1950s, and the designation was removed from the LIE altogether . The LIE and Queens–Midtown Tunnel gained their I-495 designation by around 1960.
The Robert Moses Playground, next to the tunnel's Manhattan ventilation building
As planned, the two tubes would have had an exterior diameter of 31ft, a roadway 21ft wide, and a maximum vehicular height limit of 13 ft 1in., the vehicular height limit is 12 ft 1in, and the width limit is 8 ft 6in.
The tunnel contains two ventilation buildings, both 100ft orange brick structures in the Art Deco style. One is located on the Manhattan side, on a city-owned block bounded by 41st and 42nd Streets, First Avenue, and the FDR Drive. The building is octagon-shaped. This block is shared with the Robert Moses Playground, a playground operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks). The playground was built along with the tunnel and opened in 1941. The other ventilation building is located on the Queens side, in the center of Borden Avenue between Second and Fifth Streets. This structure is rectangular, unlike its Manhattan counterpart, and due to its location in the middle of Borden Avenue, traffic along the road drives around the building. The two buildings originally contained a combined 23 fans, which were replaced in the mid-2000s. The ventilation system is capable of completely filtering the tubes' air within 90 seconds.
The Queens portal also contains a small park, "Bridge and Tunnel Park", containing one court for basketball and two for handball. It is bounded by the Pulaski Bridge on the west, 50th Avenue on the north, 11th Place on the east, and the Queens–Midtown Tunnel entrance ramp on the south. The park opened in 1979, and is operated by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA; now MTA Bridges and Tunnels). However, NYC Parks owns the land that constitutes Bridge and Tunnel Park.
The Queens–Midtown Tunnel was originally proposed in 1921 by Manhattan's borough president, Julius Miller. It gained serious traction in 1926, under the name Triborough Tunnel or 38th Street Tunnel. Miller, in conjunction with Queens' borough president, Maurice E. Connolly, proposed the $58 million tunnel as a way to connect Midtown Manhattan with Long Island City in Queens as well as Greenpoint in Brooklyn. At the time, there was frequent and heavy congestion on bridges across the East River, which separated Queens and Brooklyn (both on Long Island) from the island of Manhattan. Brooklyn's borough president, James J. Byrne, was not happy that the Queens and Manhattan borough presidents had proposed the Triborough Tunnel without consulting him first. In December 1926, Mayor James J. Walker formed a commission to study traffic congestion on New York City bridges and tunnels. Local civic groups felt that it would be inadequate to simply increase capacity on existing crossings like the Queensboro Bridge, since there were no connections whatsoever between Long Island and Midtown Manhattan. The city declined to give its immediate support to the Triborough Tunnel proposal.
In April 1927, civic groups formed the 38th Street Tunnel Committee to advocate for the tunnel. They stated that the tunnel would act as a relief corridor for traffic from midtown Manhattan, since at the time, all of the vehicular crossings from Manhattan Island were located to either the north or the south of midtown. That June, the city voted to allocate $100,000 toward surveying sites and making test bores. Several more civic groups expressed support for the tunnel and urged that it be completed as soon as possible. This number had grown to 35 civic groups by February 1929.
In May 1928, civic groups proposed an entire series of underground tunnels under Manhattan, connecting Queens and Long Island in the east with Weehawken, New Jersey, in the west. Whereas the Queens–Midtown Tunnel would cross the East River and connect Queens to the East Side of Manhattan, the Midtown Hudson (Lincoln) Tunnel would cross the Hudson River and connect the West Side of Manhattan to New Jersey. This planned tunnel would run from 10th Avenue on Manhattan's west side, running underneath Manhattan streets and the East River, and surface near Borden Avenue at the Long Island City side. A spur from Manhattan would diverge to Oakland Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and the tunnel would also have an entrance and exit to Third Avenue in Manhattan. The tunnels' route lengths would total approximately 4.3mi; the segments of the tunnel under the East River, under Manhattan, and between Queens and Brooklyn would each comprise about a third of the tunnel's length. The Fifth Avenue Association further proposed that the city create a bridge-and-tunnel authority that would raise funding and oversee construction and operations, in a format similar to the Port of New York Authority, which was already serving such a purpose for Hudson River crossings.
The Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York formally endorsed the Manhattan-to-Queens crossing project in January 1929, but stated that it was open to the construction of either a bridge or a tunnel. The city then began conducting a study on the feasibility of constructing the Triborough Tunnel, as well as a Triborough Bridge between Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx. The results of that study were released in May, in which it was suggested that the city construct a network of parkways and expressways, including a major highway leading from Long Island to the Manhattan-Queens tunnel. The Queens Planning Commission also recommended the construction of the Triborough Tunnel. Official plans for the Triborough Tunnel were released that June; the $86 million project was proposed to contain a series of feeder highways, including the crosstown Manhattan tunnel and the tunnel spur from Brooklyn. The tunnel would charge tolls to pay for maintenance and create revenue for the city. With the passage of the toll provision, officials expected that tunnel construction could start as soon as the end of that year.
However, in July 1929, the city was faced with unexpected legal issues: the language of Walker's proclamation, which ostensibly allowed construction to proceed, had in fact restricted the construction of the tunnel to the wrong city agency. Civic groups convened a special session in which they asked the New York City Board of Estimate to override the laws so the tunnel could be approved. The Board of Estimate ultimately voted to grant $5 million to feasibility studies and preliminary construction for two tunnels: the Manhattan-Queens tunnel, as well as another tunnel under the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island. Afterward, the New York City Board of Transportation hurried to submit plans for the construction of the Triborough Tunnel.
Further logistical issues arose in January 1930, after the Midtown Hudson Tunnel between Manhattan and New Jersey had been approved, and engineers discussed how the Triborough Tunnel would connect with the Hudson River tunnel. Around this time, engineers revised the approaches from the Long Island side. Whereas the original plans had called for a tunnel under Newtown Creek to Brooklyn, which would parallel 11th Street in Queens, the new plans called for a tunnel to Brooklyn that ran diagonally to 21st Street (one block east of 11th Street), which would connect to a viaduct that flew over East River Railroad Tunnels' Queens portals before ending at Jackson Avenue in Long Island City. Exploratory borings were reportedly completed by June 1930, and engineers were finalizing the plans. In September 1930, the Board of Transportation slightly modified the plan for the tunnel, this time within Manhattan. The tubes would surface at plazas at Second Avenue in Manhattan before descending again until Tenth Avenue. The eastbound and westbound tunnels would respectively run under 37th and 38th Streets, since the streets were too narrow to accommodate two tubes side-by-side. Advocates of the Triborough Tunnel opposed the construction of surface-level exit plazas, saying that motorists from either of the tunnel's ends would have to briefly drive along the street before continuing their trip. One group proposed a crosstown elevated highway in lieu of a tunnel under Manhattan.
By the end of that year, the United States Department of War had approved of the construction of the Triborough Tunnel, since the tube would not hinder maritime navigation during wartime. However, by then, the Board of Transportation had delayed construction for a few months because of significant public concerns about the crosstown-highway section. In June 1931, the Board of Transportation submitted a detailed revised plan for the Triborough Tunnel to the Board of Estimate for a vote. The project was now expected to cost $93.6 million, including a $23.5 million initial phase under the East River and within Queens. That October, the Board of Estimate allocated $200,000 for planning, with construction expected to start in March 1932 and completion of the East River by 1936. However, by July 1932, no contracts had been awarded yet due to a lack of funds, and the Triborough Tunnel project was estimated to cost $80 million. As the Midtown Tunnel plan faltered, the Board of Estimate approved the construction of other projects that had not been as extensively studied.
Plans for the tunnel were finally revived in May 1935, when Governor Herbert H. Lehman signed a bill to set up the Queens–Midtown Tunnel Authority, which would build the tunnel. Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia subsequently nominated three prominent businessmen to head the agency. La Guardia supported the immediate construction of the tunnel because he believed it would help traffic get to the 1939 New York World's Fair. The Queens–Midtown Tunnel Authority applied for a federal loan and grant, worth a combined $58.4 million, from the Public Works Administration (PWA) that September. Two months later, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) offered to lend $47.1 million of the tunnel's cost on the condition that the PWA grant the remaining $11.3 million balance. In response to the RFC's offer, PWA chairman Harold L. Ickes stated that his agency had $32.7 million readily available for the construction of the tunnel. The tunnel's projected $58.4 million cost only applied to the 3790ft section of the tunnel under the river, as well as the 1600ft Queens approach and the 2400ft Manhattan approach to the Second Avenue exit and entrance plazas. The Brooklyn spur had been canceled for the time being because it could not self-fund itself, while the crosstown highway was to be included in a later project. Civic groups continued to advocate for the canceled Brooklyn spur, even after construction started.
The federal government made a tentative allotment of $58.3 million toward the Queens–Midtown Tunnel in January 1936, consisting of the RFC loan and PWA grant. The grant was expected to be paid off using toll revenue and the sale of $50 million in bonds. Also in January 1936, the New York State Legislature organized the New York City Tunnel Authority to construct the Queens-Midtown and Brooklyn–Battery Tunnels. The plans for the tunnel had been completed to the extent that tunnel construction could start as soon as the city received the federal funds. The Tunnel Authority accepted the grant in a March 1936 ceremony. With the approval of that grant, the Queens–Midtown Tunnel became the United States' largest public works project that was not supervised by a federal agency.
In April 1936, Manhattan borough president Samuel Levy proposed a six-lane bridge, in lieu of the Queens–Midtown Tunnel, because he believed a bridge would save an estimated $36 million. This plan was endorsed by Brooklyn borough president Raymond V. Ingersoll and State Senator Thomas C. Desmond. Robert Moses, the chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA), also supported a bridge, but for a separate reason: he held a grudge against the Tunnel Authority because he had been rejected from running the authority. Moses's agency would be the only entity who could construct and operate a toll bridge entirely within the New York City limits, and the already-approved federal funding for the tunnel would be canceled if he delayed the tunnel project for long enough. New York City Tunnel Authority commissioner William Friedman opposed the bridge because the PWA funding had been secured already. The Queens Borough Chamber of Commerce also opposed the bridge, as did Mayor La Guardia. The PWA, for its part, ordered that tunnel planning work proceed, regardless of the status of the bridge plans. A bill for the proposed bridge was voted down in the New York State Senate that May.
View inside the tunnel
CC BY-SA 2.0
The Tunnel Authority approved plans for the tunnel in August 1936. The Authority's chief engineer, Ole Singstad, was tasked with designing the tunnel. By the end of the month, the first bids for the tunnel were advertised. A groundbreaking ceremony for the tunnel was held on the Queens side on October 1, 1936, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in attendance. Shortly afterward, the New York City Tunnel Authority awarded the first contracts for the tunnel's construction. Test bores for the tubes were started later that month. These exploratory bores utilized diamond-tipped drills, which were operated from flat-bottomed boats and drilled vertically downward into the riverbed.
By November 1936, the test bores had been completed, and engineers determined that many geological and manmade obstacles made it difficult to build the tunnel. For one thing, the Queens–Midtown Tunnel's path passed through a large concentration of solid rock, although there were also some pockets of dirt under the river that would be easy to dig through. Additionally, workers had to take care to not accidentally damage the East River railroad tunnels to the south and the Steinway Tunnel to the north when digging. Four shafts, consisting of one construction and one ventilation shaft on each side, were to be part of the tunnel's construction, but by November 1936, only the Queens construction shaft had been built. The next month, the Tunnel Authority, which had accepted a bid for the Midtown ventilation shaft, was authorized to begin construction immediately on the shaft, which was located on the block between 41st and 42nd Streets, First Avenue, and the East River Drive. Construction on the Manhattan ventilation shaft began with a ceremony on December 31, 1936, and the city bought the block outright in April 1937.
The first $500,000 allocation of PWA funding was released in January 1937. A 40ft layer of clay was placed along the tunnel's path at the bottom of the East River to prevent air leakages and maintain air pressure within the tubes. This "blanket" contained about 250,000yd3 of clay. A clay blanket had not been used in any prior underwater tunnel projects. As a result, digging work was delayed for four months to allow the clay layer to be placed, and officials feared that the tunnel might not open before the end of 1940, as was originally planned. A contract for digging the tubes themselves was awarded in June 1937. The project employed as many as 2,500 sandhogs at a time. Because the work site had such a high air pressure, each man worked two 30-minute shifts per day, punctuated by a 6-hour break in a depressurized chamber so that they would not get decompression sickness.
On the Queens side, it was proposed to link the tunnel to a new expressway (now part of the Long Island Expressway). Eventually, officials agreed to construct the 2.5mi link to what is now the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, forming part of a longer highway that connected directly to LaGuardia Airport. However, the status a corresponding limited-access expressway on the Manhattan side, connecting to the Lincoln Tunnel, was still undecided. The Manhattan entrance and exit ramps replaced the St. Gabriel Church, which later relocated to Park Avenue. By early 1938, costs were rising quickly, and only 65% of the contracts had been awarded. Tunnel Authority Commissioner Friedman stated that if costs were to keep increasing at the same rate, construction might have to be abandoned midway through. By September 1938, three-fourths of the tunnel's contracts had been awarded.
Work on the underwater section of the tubes started in April 1938. Underwater boring was supposed to have started earlier but the geology of the underwater section had delayed construction. When the underwater digging started, La Guardia opened the valves that allowed compressed air to flow into the tubes, and workers started digging the tunnels under the river from each end. The pressurized air allowed sandhogs to work as much as six hours per day in two 3-hour shifts, but as they tunneled nearer to the center of the river, the pressure increased and sandhogs worked fewer hours per day. Builders also pumped air along the top of the tunnel to prevent water from seeping in. Later, workers began wearing oxygen masks connected to a portable machine that gave out pure oxygen. Despite the precautions taken to avoid sudden depressurization of the tubes, about 300 cases of decompression sickness were recorded during the construction process.
The project was about 25% completed by September 1938. Workers primarily dug underwater using tunnelling shields on either side of each tube, but significant amounts of dynamite were also used when trying to dig through particularly thick sheets of rock. Afterward, steel rings, each composed of 14 sections which individually weighed up to 3,500lb, were laid within the tunnel. In March 1939, the PWA released a report predicting that the tunnel would not be complete until summer 1941, eight months later than originally planned, due to geological difficulties. Around the same time, Robert Moses alleged that the Queens–Midtown Tunnel would not be profitable, during an unrelated argument about the feasibility of building the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel. This prompted the New York State Legislature to conduct an investigation into the Queens–Midtown Tunnel's costs. Moses's allegation also originated from his resentment toward the Tunnel Authority.
Work proceeded quickly afterward, and the tunnel was 60% complete by May 1939. Construction was briefly halted in July when sandhogs went on strike for two weeks due to a disagreement between two unions. By that time, the two ends of the tubes were only separated by 850ft. Workers digging from the Manhattan side no longer required compressed air because the tubes had reached a rock cropping. With so little distance to go until the tubes were connected, the sandhogs sped up their pace of digging. By late September, the project was 45 days ahead of schedule and employing 3,200 workers.
Both tubes were connected with a "holing through" ceremony in November 1939, with a margin of error of less than 0.5in. In January 1940, another construction milestone was reached when the last of 1,622 metal rings were installed in the tubes. The ventilation buildings were almost completed, and property at the Queens portal was being demolished to make way for the tunnel approaches. By May 1940, only three contracts remained to be awarded, and the tunnel was 90% complete.
Opening and early years
The exit ramp in Manhattan
The Queens–Midtown Tunnel finished on time in fall 1940. Roosevelt was the first person to drive through the tunnel, on October 28, 1940. However, the rest of the public was not to use it until mid-November. An advertisement for the tunnel, published in newspapers just before its opening, touted it as "the toll that isn't a toll" with the slogan "Cross In 3 Minutes, Save In 3 Ways ... Time! Money! Gas!" The Queens Chamber of Commerce's president praised the Queens–Midtown Tunnel as something that would spur development in Queens.
The tunnel was opened to traffic on November 15, 1940, with a ceremony on the Queens side. The attendees included the Queens and Manhattan borough presidents; U.S. Senator Robert F. Wagner; and New York City Council president Newbold Morris, who was attending in La Guardia's stead. The tubes were fitted with a then-new lighting technology that allowed drivers to more quickly adjust to the sunlight upon leaving the tunnel. One hundred and fifty workers were hired and trained to operate the tunnel. Twelve female workers were also hired in 1943 due to a shortage of male guards, since many of the men who previously worked as guards were fighting in World War II.
In a report published in August 1939, the New York City Tunnel Authority had estimated that the tunnel would carry 10 million vehicles in its first year and would reach its 16-million annual-vehicle capacity by 1952. However, in the Queens–Midtown Tunnel's first few months, traffic counts were lower than expected because motorists could use the East River bridges to the north and south for free. The tunnel had carried one million vehicles by February 1941, three months after opening. This was further exacerbated by the gasoline rationing during World War II, which caused vehicular trips in general to decline. The tunnel was closed during the nighttime beginning in February 1943, but due to growing nighttime traffic demand, 24-hour operation resumed in July 1944. By 1946, the tunnel was running a $5.8 million deficit. The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which had succeeded the New York City Tunnel Authority, recorded a 72% increase in tunnel traffic in the first half of that year, compared to the same time frame during the previous year. The tunnel recorded its first profits in 1949, with a net earning of $659,505.
In 1950, the TBTA and several airlines agreed to build the East Side Airlines Terminal on the Manhattan side of the tunnel, after having negotiated about such a terminal for four years. The terminal, a stone-faced building, opened in 1953, along First Avenue between 37th and 38th Street. The terminal hosted bus routes that would take passengers to either LaGuardia or John F. Kennedy International Airports. The terminal operated until 1983, and it was sold in 1985. This site is now occupied by The Corinthian, an apartment complex.
Mid-Manhattan Expressway and third tube plan
Plans to connect the Queens-Midtown and Lincoln Tunnels resurfaced in 1950, but were dropped for lack of support. In 1959, Robert Moses proposed adding a third tube to the Queens–Midtown Tunnel to relieve congestion. The tube would be located to the south of the two existing tubes, and at one point, officials proposed connecting the third tube's eastern end to Brooklyn. In January 1965, Moses announced that money had been allocated to a feasibility study for the third tube, which was projected to cost $120 million. This proposal was part of his plan to build a Mid-Manhattan expressway over 30th Street. The third tube would also connect to the ultimately unbuilt Bushwick Expressway, which would extend across northeastern Brooklyn and southwestern Queens to connect with the present-day Nassau Expressway.
In December 1965, Moses canceled his plans for the Mid-Manhattan Expressway due to opposition from the city government. However, he affirmed that the TBTA would construct a third tube for the Queens–Midtown Tunnel because it did not require the city's approval, and that the new tube would be completed four-and-a-half years after construction started. He stated that after the third tube was completed, traffic in the Queens–Midtown Tunnel would be modeled after that of the three-tube Lincoln Tunnel, with two tubes dedicated exclusively to westbound and eastbound traffic as well as a reversible-flow center tube. Although the Queens Chamber of Commerce supported the third-tube project, citywide officials opposed it. Moses ignored the city's disapproval, and in March 1966, advertised for bids to make test borings for the third tube. The TBTA continued studying the feasibility of a third tube through 1967. Ultimately, a third tube was never built.
In 1971, one lane of the Queens–Midtown Tunnel's eastbound tube was converted to a westbound high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) and bus lane during the morning rush hours. The reversible tunnel lane was fed by a HOV/bus lane along the Long Island Expressway, which started 2mi east of the tunnel's Queens portal and only operated during the morning peak period.
From 1981 to 2016, the tunnel was closed to traffic for a few hours one night each spring to allow for the annual "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Animal Walk". Several nights before the circus opened at Madison Square Garden, the elephants marched into Manhattan and down 34th Street to the arena. The animals had formerly been transported into the city via the West Side Line in Manhattan, but the southernmost part of that line, the High Line viaduct, was closed in 1981 due to construction on the nearby Javits Center. The first "Animal Walk" through the Queens–Midtown Tunnel memorialized a similar event ten years earlier, when the animals had walked to Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel due to a railroad strike. This event was a much-anticipated annual tradition for many members of the general public, and crowds of several hundred people would flock to the Queens–Midtown Tunnel's Queens portal to see the march in the middle of the night. However, it also attracted protests from organizations who opposed what they saw as the inhumane treatment of the circus animals. When the circus stopped using elephants in 2016, the elephant walk ceased.
The tubes' roadways were originally paved with bricks. The road surface was replaced with asphalt in 1995. Two years later, the TBTA's successor, MTA Bridges and Tunnels, announced its intention to renovate the roof of the Queens–Midtown Tunnel. The $132 million project, completed in May 2001, involved replacing the roof with 930 slabs of concrete that were suspended from brackets glued onto the tunnel shell. The major contract for the renovation project, worth $97 million, received scrutiny when it was discovered that the contractor had given money to the political party of Governor George Pataki just before the contract was awarded. However, a state judge found that the MTA did not break any laws or ethical obligations when it awarded the contract to the Pataki donor instead of one of the other candidates for that contract. In 2004, the MTA started to replace the 23 fans within the tunnel's ventilation structures. This project was completed in 2008.
For a short time after the September 11 attacks in 2001, all Manhattan-bound traffic through the tunnel was subject to a high-occupancy vehicle restriction. This restriction was removed in April 2002.
In 2017–2018, the tiled walls in the Queens–Midtown and Brooklyn–Battery Tunnels were replaced due to damage suffered during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The re-tiled white walls have gold-and-blue stripes, representing the official state colors of New York. Controversy arose over the cost of re-tiling the tunnels, which cost a combined $30 million, because of the ongoing transit crisis at the time.
The tunnel carries 21 express bus routes; sixteen of these routes use the tunnel for westbound travel only. The bus routes that use the tunnel are the, all operated by the MTA Bus Company, and the, operated by MTA New York City Transit. All of these routes except the BM5, QM7, QM8, QM11 and QM25 use the tunnel for westbound travel only, as most of the routes use the Queensboro Bridge for eastbound travel.
Former toll plaza on the Queens side in Long Island City, prior to the replacement of cashless tolling
, drivers pay $8.50 per car or $3.50 per motorcycle for tolls by mail. E‑ZPass users with transponders issued by the New York E‑ZPass Customer Service Center pay $5.76 per car or $2.51 per motorcycle. All E-ZPass users with transponders not issued by the New York E-ZPass CSC will be required to pay Toll-by-mail rates.
Open-road cashless tolling started on January 10, 2017. The tollbooths were dismantled, and drivers are no longer able to pay cash at the tunnel. Instead, there are cameras mounted onto new overhead gantries located on the Manhattan side. Drivers without E-ZPass have a picture of their license plate taken, and a bill for the toll is mailed to them. For E-ZPass users, sensors detect their transponders wirelessly.
1940–1972 $0.25 $ –
1972–1975 $0.50 $ –
1975–1980 $0.75 $ –
1980–1982 $1.00 $ –
1982–1984 $1.25 $ –
1984–1986 $1.50 $ –
1986–1987 $1.75 $ –
1987–1989 $2.00 $ –
1989–1993 $2.50 $ –
1993–1996 $3.00 $ –
1996–2003 $3.50 $ –
2003–2005 $4.00 $ –
2005–2008 $4.50 $ –
2008–2010 $5.00 $ –
2010–2015 $6.50 $ –
2015–2017 $8.00 $ –
2017–present $8.50 $8.50