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Subway Tunnel To Be Filled. This time they mean it. Probably.

October 10th, 2009

The soon-to-be-filled west entrance to the Rochester Subway at Brown Street.

For decades it’s been an inconvenient truth for Rochester. The abandoned Erie Canal turned ghost subway tunnel has long been considered a ticking time-bomb. It’s widely known that the city has wanted to fill at least the west end of the tunnel for many years, citing critical safety deficiencies in the structure beneath the street surface. But, with Rochester’s ongoing economic struggles and estimates into the $10′s of millions, the project has been repeatedly delayed (or swept under the rug). Until now…

Thanks in part to $10 million from the new government stimulus plan, the City of Rochester expects to begin its “Broad Street Tunnel Improvement Project” this December. Make no mistake about it, the “improvement” is that the tunnel will be filled. Project Manager Tom Hack, P.E. told RochesterSubway.com that the bulk of the work will begin in April/May of 2010.

Satellite view of Broad Street in downtown Rochester. The subway tunnel is highlighted with the area to be filled marked red. Image courtesy of Google.

Mr. Hack acknowledged the fill to take place “from Brown Street to the RR portal next to Nick Tahou’s.” That’s about 1,900 linear feet out of 4,600 total feet of tunnel from end to end. Paul Holahan, Commissioner of the Deptartment of Environmental Services assured us that the portion between the Aqueduct and Main Street will remain. This satellite image shows the tunnel and the portion to be filled.

The City opened the project for bidding external link last month. The bids are now in and the opening is set to take place on October 19. 35 different companies responded. Those in the running include locals such as The Pike Co. and LeChase Construction—as well as contractors from as far away as Alabama and California.

Advocates for the Development of Rochester's Canal is an organization that believes the Broad Street tunnel could once again be a functioning waterway — by ripping up Broad Street and using the old canal bed.Although this may have always been the likely end to the subway tunnel saga, filling it in has long been a topic of debate. Public backlash over any attempt to fill the tunnel (i.e. the “Chill-The-Fill” movement) and proposals to repurpose the old tunnel/canal have also delayed the inevitable. Most recently in 2006 a group calling themselves Advocates for the Development of Rochester’s Canal external link announced a plan that would strip the Broad Street surface away and convert the tunnel back into a boat canal (see image above). An interesting idea, but one that has had it’s share of question marks surrounding it—not the least of which would be long term maintenance costs.

So how will this project affect the canal restoration proposal or any possible future development of the tunnel? Mr. Hack admits that although the area to be filled does conflict with Rochester’s Historic Canal District Initiative, any effort to restore the canal wouldn’t begin for at least 15 years, and market conditions may dictate other uses.

Roger Brown of the RRCDC external link offered us a bit of solace. “I don’t see this becoming a [light rail] route again – over time there will be other options available for north/south transit routes connecting into a possible Main Street Trolley almost like Denver external link in concept. …if the route ever was resurrected as a light rail corridor again it would be easy to dig up.” When asked if the fill would impact his group’s dowtown vision plan external link Roger said, “It really doesn’t interfer with any of our Vision Plans – certainly it does with RRTC. Tom Grasso (ADROC external link) certainly would like to see the route as a canal but that too could happen in the way distant future as well. Our plans are quite a bit less aggressive – except for the idea of a trolley on Main Street to start the ball rolling on light rail.”

This shot from inside the Rochester Subway tunnel's west end. Courtesy of Tyler's Urban Rochester Series... http://picasaweb.google.com/tyler.bazzi/UrbanRochesterSeries

Yes, a trolley on Main Street would be nice. And perhaps one day we’ll see it happen. For now, that may be little consolation to Rochester rail fans because one thing is certain—the fill that once was chilled is about to thaw.


You are welcome to read the full text of our interview with Tom Hack, P.E., Project Manager of the Broad Street Tunnel Improvement Project. And please do leave your thoughts in the comments.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 10th, 2009 at 11:07 am and is filed under Interviews, Rochester News, Rochester Subway. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

28 Responses to “Subway Tunnel To Be Filled. This time they mean it. Probably.”

  1. I like the ideas of a trolley on Main Street and restoring the canal. It’s sad to think of any part of the tunnel being filled, but encouraging that it can be unearthed if needed. Thank you for keeping me well informed!

  2. Mike says:

    Peter, I agree. I think a Main Street trolley line is something even the bus company could get on board with. RTS should seriously consider this idea… A light rail line could be used to connect all the bus routes that intersect with Main Street. This way the crowd at Main and Clinton would be dispersed and the trolley would even entice more local riders up and down Main Street.

  3. Dave says:

    It sucks that Rochester’s thoughtless leaders decided to fill in part of the old subway tunnel.  This could have been a nice underground parking garage!  I would love to go down there before anything happens.  My grandmother remembered when Rochester had a subway system.

  4. Great point about the trolley. I remember those long lines of buses waiting at Main and Clinton. This would be a nice way of avoiding that. It would be good too if the trolley and buses could look special, like the ones from the olden days. Are the trolley and light rail separate proposals?

  5. Mike says:

    I guess I’m using the term light rail and trolley interchangeably. Any kind of fixed railway/streetcar would suffice. I like your idea—it should LOOK like a trolley car.

  6. Fernando says:

    It’s a terrible shame that the tunnel is slated to get filled in. The point of utilizing the tunnel is to not use valuable space above ground for transit, where people and cars are. A main street trolley would only add to the current clutter on the street. It could have been used as an underground bus route, and creating a central bus station along the route somewhere.

  7. Mike says:

    Fernando, I don’t know if I’d consider streetcars on Main Street as clutter. To the point that was made by Roger Brown in the article, there may be an added value to having a system like that be more visible. Plus modern streetcar systems are pretty sleek and fairly compact (see Portland). If we are stuck with buses for the long haul downtown, I do like your idea—lets tuck them away where we can’t see them.

  8. Maybe we could also make the buses more compact and attractive.

    Would the trolleys need electric wires or would they have rails? Would they be pretty much like the Portland Streetcars?

  9. Carlos Mercado says:

    A downtown heritage trolley would, in all probability, look like a 1920′s era streetcar, running on tracks and drawing power from an overhead wire. Think of New Orleans or San Francisco. Hopefully, it would not be one of those tacky little buses that look a bit like a Disneyland horse car.

  10. Patrick Eagan says:

    In July of this year, I posted a recollection of my subway use in the 1950s summers to get to KPAA softball games. That was a great time.

    http://padraicmacaodhagain.blogspot.com/2009/07/kpaa-softball.html

  11. Jeff says:

    I don’t think it should be filled. It should be restored to it’s original state and used as it was once used, all of the sub way system. What a great way to transport people though out the city.

  12. Cathy says:

    I was born and raised in Rochester, and worked as an archivist for Monroe County and several surrounding Counties. I know that the Rochester officials could revitalize that whole system and get great utilization out of it and make a working system again (such would cut down on traffic downtown as well). It once worked great. But I believe there is a greater picture to the issue here, it involves the homeless people that are occupying the space within this system, in other words, “eviction notice”. I believe this is why the politicians want the tunnel filled. Here is a wonderful idea, how about taking what is needed from the $10 million and putting in housing downtown for the evictees/or taking one of the many buildings not in use and transforming it into housing apartments for them. Just a passing thought from someone who knows the story from behind the scenes. And someone should research and find out just how many trolleys are still down in the system and how many of them are still, in working order. Maybe there could be a Preservation/Conservation project started on the preserving of a “Little Rochester History”. Thanks.

  13. admin says:

    Cathy, there are no cars left in the tunnel. When subway service ceased in 1956 all the passenger cars were scrapped except for one. Car 60 is currently in the possession of the Rochester Chapter NRHS, at the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum in Rush, NY. They are trying to raise money to restore it. Feel free to contact them about donating to this cause.

    Your point about the homeless may be valid. Although with only 1/3 of the tunnel being filled, I doubt they’ll be permanently evicted.

  14. In doing research on Rochester’s canals, both the Erie and Genesee Valley Canals, I have come across a document on Google Books entitled “A City Plan for Rochester: A Report Prepared for the Rochester Civic Improvement Committee”, prepared in 1911. Page 19 of the document entitled “The Old Canal Bed” deals with the canal and what to do with it. It is interesting reading. This plan suggests a subway. What a unique idea!

  15. admin says:

    Patrick, thank you for the link to that book! That is FASCINATING. I have in my collection 2 color postcards of the concept drawings shown on page 18.

  16. Zac says:

    I have recently been down in the Rochester Subway and it is incredible. Although all the cars are gone and only a few tracks remain, it is impressive to see the overall size and architecture of the place. Also, the graffiti art is amazing. While most people think of graffiti as destruction of public property, this is different. Artists can spend days on a piece, letting one color dry then moving to the next. It is compelling to see these “criminals” and their true talents. I can understand why they might want to fill in parts of the subway but to me it is more important to turn it in to something useful; something Rochesterians can appreciate. Like an underground restaurant near the aqueducts, or a “True Rochester Underground” with dedications to the fine graffiti art and history of the subway. This place is just to cool to bury in the ground

  17. admin says:

    Thanks for the comment Zac. Incidentally, we will be doing a story on the writing in the subway tunnel and around town. If anyone has photos of cool Rochester graffiti please send them in. We’ll give you mad props.

  18. Cormac farrell says:

    I have been down there 3 or 4 times in the past couple weeks, trying to take it all in before any filling in happens. I would love for it to be restored, and kept open. Or even a canal.

    What people who have not been down there do not understand is that wooden blocks are holding up broad street(99% sure its broad), and much of the concrete shows signs of extreme stress etc. In order to not fill it in, it would cost a bunch more to restore concrete and supports! (although id support restoring it!)

    It is not a matter of ignoring it, and spending the ten million on something “more important”…If nothing is done, broad street will collapse some day, and then we will have a much bigger problem! What needs to be decided is whether a full restoration could be done, or whether we must fill it in. It appears the city has made up their mind, and I oppose their decision. I went down there with an engineer, and he inspected a bunch of what they have done, and they are all temporary fixes, that while working for some time will need to be addressed.

    I think everyone should go down there and explore, just make sure to bring a couple friends and some good lights. It really is amazing.

  19. Cormac farrell says:

    And Cathy, I believe that the part they are filling in, is not where the homeless are living.

  20. Adam says:

    i think the part they are filling in needs to be filled. broad st. is terrible! ask anyone who uses it ever day. iv hade my front end repaired many times because of the pot holes.
    i do, however. think that a subway system would be a great idea for the rochester. i think it would it would pay for its self after 1 year of being open.

  21. Calico says:

    I have MANY awesome pictures, let me know if you still would like some.

    i absolutely adore the subway, it is my favorite part about rochester and I visit a few times a year–I would rerally love for it to remain.

  22. admin says:

    @Calico, if you send me some of your photos I will gladly post them on the site. Email them to us along with any stories that might go with them.

    If you’re interested in revisiting the subway tunnel RochesterSubway.com is hosting an excursion on Saturday, March 20 (noonish til 2ish).

    This is an open invitation to anyone interested…
    To RSVP visit us on Facebook and click on Events.

  23. Dave says:

    What a shame. Let’s use this infrastructure!! I think it’s time to bring the subway back!! It would be perfect for riding to frontier field for ball games or for concerts. You wouldn’t have to deal with parking. I think we should install a maglev train. Zero emissions and zero noise. The problem, as always, is MONEY. Aren’t their any wealthy private donors out there who can recognize a good investment?? Imagine how beautiful we could make all the stops. Have a coffee stand at each one, a different mural on each wall. We would have I-phone apps that tell you when a train is nearing. Oh the possibilities are endless!! It’s been 54 years since the subway last ran in Rochester. Times change. The city is ready for a train we can all be proud of. I think that beats the hell out of what the alternative is to put in the tunnel: dirt.

  24. admin says:

    @Dave, would you settle for a surface streetcar line instead?

  25. [...] about the subway’s past and its impending doom at the mercy of city officials. Stay informed here, and let us know your views. Is this a good move for the city or an opportunity missed? Either way, [...]

  26. Walter W. Stumpf Jr. says:

    It is a shame not to utilize this ‘gem’. I understand both proposals-rail and canal.
    While I don’t know first hand the ‘areas’ it traverses, if it is the business district, then resurrecting the subway is the way to go. Cities across the world are building subways to lessen road traffic above, lower pollution levels, and think of the future.
    If this is a tourist area, maybe the canal idea is the way to go. I have been to San Antonio and Oklahoma City and their ‘riverwalks’. SAT’s is very developed with shops and restaurants and the tourist boat rides, while OKC’s is just getting started but on its way. [and their are other cities too]
    One way or another, ROC needs to do something other ‘fill’ its treasure in.

  27. Allan says:

    Did they go through with the fill-in as discussed in this article? I realize it’s a few years ago now – what was the outcome?

  28. Yes. The west end of the tunnel is filled.


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