Monday, November 8, 2021

Hooray for infrastructure!

     Unlike you, I’ve been down the Deep Tunnel. Twice. A system unique in the world, more than 100 miles of tunnels, some 33 feet across, a network holding 17 billion gallons of water. Drilled over decades through solid rock by enormous machines at a cost of billions of dollars, all to keep your basement dry.
     Being there made me think of the pyramids of Egypt. I don’t want to speak for the shaven-headed subjects of pharaoh. But I imagine they felt a similar swelling of pride, to belong to a people who can do this kind of thing, who can crack the whip of our intelligence and engineering, social cohesion and wealth to make physical reality itself do these tricks.
     Many of my favorite stories are infrastructure stories. I’ve stood on the floor of the Thornton Quarry before it was flooded and turned into the Thornton Composite Reservoir, and marveled at giant earth movers that look like gnats, lost in the vastness.
     I’ve been through the Jardine Water Purification Plant. It began operation in the mid-1960s and is still the largest water treatment plant in the world.
     I’ve ridden in a cement truck with Tim Ozinga. Been conveyed on the trolley of a tower crane, far too quickly, 600 feet above Michigan Avenue, and watched water pipes placed into a trough on Harrison Street.
     I know more about Chicago’s 37 moveable bridges than is proper to know, having read “Chicago’s Bridges” by Nathan Holth. I wish I could say I watched rapt while one of the trunnion bascule drawbridges was balanced, using foot square cubes of concrete. Alas, my pleas to the city over years have been in vain. But hope springs eternal, and I’m not giving up yet.
     So yes, maybe I’m more attuned to the inestimable value of pipes and roads and bridges and train tracks and electrical grids than most guys. But I can’t let Congress’s passage of the $1 trillion national infrastructure bill over the weekend pass without letting out a whoop of joy. Hooray! About time. Took you idiots long enough.

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  1. "Had the former president gotten the legislation passed..." oh man, you crack me up.

    But, really, indulge us in wonderful infrastructure anytime!

  2. Splendid! You should build on your already extensive familiarity with Chicagoland projects and make worldwide infrastructure the subject of your next book. Most of the great cities of the world harbor marvels of civil engineering. One of the more recent is the Thames Barrier, completed in 1982, a series of steel piers, each some five stories high, that can be raised or lowered as needed to spare the giant flood plane the city of London sits on episodes of flooding going back centuries.

    Then there's those Doughty Dutchmen, holding back the angry seas.


  3. Most spectator sports defined pithily and aptly: "fit young people agitating a ball or puck around a defined space." That's gold, Jerry!

    And the larger point, that "it’s a shame Chicago doesn’t take pride" in its impressive infrastructure the way it does its sports teams and deep dish pizza is definitely valid. I'll give a shout-out to the Bloomingdale Trail, not nearly as grand as some of Neil's more imposing examples, but a swell addition to the fabric of the city, nonetheless.

  4. I would love to see some of that stuff. In Lincolnwood just north of the CVS on Devon and Crawford they built the waterworks building like a house to fit in. I must have went past that building a hundred times before I noticed. And I'm sure that's exactly what they hoped for.

    1. Next time you go to NYC, go to 56 Joralemon St. in Brooklyn. It's a fake house front to disguise a air vent to a subway tunnel underneath it.

    2. Clark I googled it, it looks like its 58 Joralemon. Wow, it's worth checking out. One would never know although it looks a little unusual.


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