The Swirling Bathtub Drain in the River
October 15, 2009 9:33 AM   Subscribe

"You'll have heard how the city once ended in fire, and around these parts, it threatens to end in ice every few years or so. But once, not too long ago, Chicago flirted with ending in water, an entirely preventable man-made inundation that few saw but everybody felt – a two-billion-dollar sucker punch tsunami that weighed in among the dozen most costly floods in American history." posted by AceRock (18 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Great story. This is the sort of thing I try to remember whenever I catch myself thinking that some group of people has their shit together just because they're responsible for a major city's infrastructure.
posted by invitapriore at 9:54 AM on October 15, 2009

that was fascinating
posted by Mach5 at 10:00 AM on October 15, 2009

good read, thanks.
posted by djseafood at 10:14 AM on October 15, 2009

Great story. The fact that something so massive could be built under a major city and then just be left forgotten and unused is amazing.
posted by Nyarlathotep at 10:23 AM on October 15, 2009

A preliminary investigation found that construction workers from Lorig Construction were pumping concrete into the abandoned freight tunnel about noon and caused the Kennedy roadway above to erupt from the pressure, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The tunnel is an extension of the more than century-old subterranean freight system that flooded downtown area in 1992 when a piling was driven into the Chicago River bottom, causing the evacuation of more than 50 damaged buildings.

Those tunnels were still causing problems as of yesterday.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 10:42 AM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

The idea of a secret underground tunnel system under downtown is just fascinating and cool. I think every city should have one.
posted by selenized at 10:43 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Good read indeed. Thanks for that.

I remember that happening and SNL or David Letterman making jokes that the mattresses used to help staunch the flow of water into the tunnels being donated by the Clinton campaign headquarters.

I never understood why they'd use mattresses. Seemed such an odd choice.
posted by heyho at 10:52 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The city of Chicago used this as way to reduce traffic downtown through draconian parking restrictions, some of which are still in place, and was also able to finally stabilize the underground structure at Grant Park Garage (essentially a multi-level parking lot built underneath landfill at the edge of downtown). This garage had been held up, literally, with lumber supports for years-- it was absolutely an act of faith to park down there. The whole thing flooded and had to be rebuilt.

Good times.
posted by nax at 10:53 AM on October 15, 2009

I remember my parent's house flooded pretty good then. The streets were like rivers. I was 12 years old -- so my older brother telling me that there were big mean fish in our basement kept me outta there for quite a while...
posted by MustardTent at 10:56 AM on October 15, 2009

They weren't *entirely* forgotten. As alluded to by the story, Chicago has been using those tunnels to run fiber optics and cable and whatnot throughout the downtown area for years. It has allowed the downtown to keep up with the broadband without having to dig a bunch of ditches. Typical Chicago. "We don't know anything about any tunnels and we *certainly* don't have any jurisdiction/responsibility for them...but should you FIND some, we think it would be good for you to use them." At least that is my understanding.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 11:02 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great read. Surely there are other American cities that had similar tunnel systems built at the same time?
posted by LarryC at 11:20 AM on October 15, 2009

Link to website of tunnel fans with lots of photos.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 12:16 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

In Portland Oregon the underground tunnels that were used to deliver freight from the waterfront to various business establishments, were supposedly used also to shanghai the unwary into sea duty. Typing "Portland Oregon shanghai tunnels" into Google will bring several versions of the story.
posted by Cranberry at 1:25 PM on October 15, 2009

I too love secret undercity tunnels. And I feel sad when they are filled in with concrete. I do not know why.
posted by tiny crocodile at 1:28 PM on October 15, 2009

Along similar lines, the geology of St. Louis is such that the whole area is filled with limestone caves - they were used as natural coolers for the exciting variety of breweries around STL, they turned into speakeasies during Prohibition, and now I guess some may be haunted!
posted by ChuraChura at 1:44 PM on October 15, 2009

My favorite line is this one: Then a terrorist threat from a deranged member of the Chicago Urban Exploration club led to the tunnels’ final sealing a few years ago.

I mean WTF: Timothy McVeigh and the September 11th terrorists didn't need any secret tunnels, and apathy, not malice had already permitted, dollar wise, on the order of the same amount of damage as McVeigh's truck or one of those planes. So what moved their hand? The threat of a teenager with a flashlight and a couple glowsticks in their sock going rogue.

From a security standpoint I'm thinking they'd have been better off promising the Chicago Urban Exploration club that the police would close one eye and look the other way in exchange for a periodic report on anything that the public works people might want to know about - leaks, mad bombers, that sort of thing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:39 PM on October 15, 2009

i don't have anything to add except: Neat. Thanks for posting.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:44 AM on October 16, 2009

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