Never Built Tunnels Under 1960s D.C.

The car culture of America was in full force through the 1950s and 1960s. Sadly, many beautiful cities and neighborhoods were ruined as a result of this push to get rid of streetcars, build up highway infrastructure and cut major thoroughfares through cities.

proposed tunnel system in Washington
proposed tunnel system in Washington

We found a really interesting article in The Washington Post from, printed almost 50 years ago, on May 31st, 1964. It detailed an ambitious project to route a number of major streets downtown through tunnels to help beautify the city. There would be a series of 10 tunnels and major underground parking structures capable of holding 10,000 cars. The motivation for this was the push to make Pennsylvania the “grand axis of the Nation,” removing unnecessary bottlenecks and messy intersections.

Below is an excerpt from the piece:

The Keystone of the plan is the designation of E st. as the principal east-west route through the heart of downtown.

Between 6th and 13th sts., E st. would be simply a “depressed street”–a road sunk beneath ground level and roofed over at intersections, but mostly open to direct sunlight.

At 13th, however, it would become a tunnel, dipping under the proposed National Square and continuing beneath the southern fringe of the White House grounds, emerging at a point just west of 17th st.

Under the plan, E st. would be widened to six moving lanes and two access lanes and would have separate underground levels for traffic, parking and pedestrians.

Pennsylvania ave. itself would be kept at its present 8-lane width but would be repaved with a tinted, decorative material, such as hard brick laid over concrete.

Because of the distinctive materials used, one architect commented, “it will not only look different but sound different” to motorists.

Can you imagine? A brick path between the White House and the Capitol.

proposed Grand Plaza on 14th St.
proposed Grand Plaza on 14th St.

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • Craig Howell

    Well, of course some of those tunnel;s on the map did get built: 12th Street, 9th Street and 3rd Street (here called the “Center Leg of Inner Loop”) all go under the Mall. E Street? Meh.

  • douglasawillinger

    These tunnel proposals appeared in a document, iIRC from 1961 “Downtown Progress”.

    I have some images from that report reproduced here: