It is such a strange feeling to walk underground knowing that huge ships pass right above your head. Exploring the Meuse Tunnel was a spontaneous idea and a really good one at that.
Things worth knowing about the Meuse Tunnel
The Meuse Tunnel in Rotterdam was built between 1937 and 1942 as the first car tunnel in the Netherlands. There was an ongoing debate on whether cars should cross the Meuse above ground or underground. The deciding factor, in the end, were the costs. A bridge across the Meuse, which would have needed to be at least 60 meters tall so that even the biggest ships can pass it without issues, would have been significantly more costly than a tunnel.
An issue that needed to be worked around during construction was the very high groundwater level of the city. The tunnel was constructed in segments which were prepared in a dry dock and then lowered into a pit. Each segment was 60 meters long, 25 meters wide and 9 meters high. Four tubes were placed in the pit. Two of them for motorised vehicles and two of them for pedestrians and cyclists. The rectangular cross-section of the tunnel was a first. Previously only round tunnels had been constructed that way.
The tunnel was built whilst German occupiers were running the country. The occupiers planned a big and prestigious celebration for the opening of the tunnel but the Dutch were against it. Towards the end of World War II, the Wehrmacht placed explosives at strategic points in the tunnel but they were never detonated. It is speculated that the bombs were disarmed shortly before the planned detonation.
Today, the tunnel houses a highly frequented main road.
A walk through the tunnel
Two similar-looking buildings face each other on the banks of the Meuse. One of the buildings is the ventilation station where the air quality in the tunnel is monitored. And in both of them are access points to the tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists that want to use the Meuse Tunnel.
We are a little confused as we stand in one of those buildings. We only see cyclists who transport their bikes down via long escalators. We can’t see any signs with further explanations as to how to use the tunnel as a pedestrian. Do we have to pay? Is this the right entrance for us? Luckily, there is a very friendly member of staff that points out that we need to get two floors down and that we can use the tunnel for free.
Alright, so we take the escalator down to the next lower floor. This is where the tunnel for the cyclists is. We take a quick look at the long, dingy tube and see many people on their bikes traversing the tunnel.
We descend another floor and arrive at an identical tunnel but this time it is much less busy.
There is only one group manoeuvring a wheelchair, other than that it is deserted. Honestly, had I not seen the cyclists before, I would have questioned whether I really wanted to walk the 550 meters through the tunnel to the other side. It doesn’t look exactly trustworthy when something like that is so empty. But we started our walk below the Meuse to the other side. There was one great benefit to using the tunnel for us: Our hotel was on the other side and not far at all from the exit of the tunnel. The other option would have been to take public transport to the other side and that would have taken us about an hour.
It is a little dingy in the Meuse Tunnel and it is sloping towards the halfway point of the tunnel. The end of the tunnel is not yet visible. As we keep walking far below the Meuse I admire the planners and construction workers who put this tunnel together. But I also hope that they did their jobs well. The thought that there are ships passing above my head is more than strange.
The path begins to go uphill and I know this means we are getting closer to the end. It gets a little lighter and then the area with the escalators comes into view. Once over ground – I am sure this is just my imagination – I suck in the much fresher air. I am glad that I don’t have to pass this tunnel every day. But I am also glad that it exists and that it makes the way across town so much easier for so many people.
Charloisse Hoofd 29,
Attention! Renovations are currently underway in the tunnel. Construction works in the pedestrian tunnels will commence in September 2019. Please enquire how long the construction works will last.