Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Posey and Webster Tubes

The Webster and Posey Tubes are submerged tunnels that pass below the Alameda Estuary. Planning for the creation of a submerged traffic route that wouldn’t interfere with shipping routes through the estuary began in 1908, and the Posey Tube was completed in 1928. Prior to the creation of the tunnels the crossing from Webster St. in Alameda to downtown Oakland was made on a swing bridge. The bridge placed limits on both vehicular and shipping traffic and its removal was heavily lobbied for by the Alaska Packer’s Association, a prominent salmon canning company that had it's processing facilities in Alameda and moored it's fleet in Alaska Basin, just off the Alameda Shore, in order to clear the estuary of obstructions to shipping. In 1922 the Alaska Packer’s Association announced plans to build a new $2 million packaging and processing plant to built in Alameda, but only if the tube bond issue that had been proposed a year earlier were passed.
On May 8th, 1923, Alameda voters approved $4,496,000 in bonds to build the tunnels. The following day, May 9th, the Alaska Packers Association announced the construction of it's new canning, packing, and shipping facility in Alameda. The tunnels are made of pre-cast concrete segments that were fabricated at the Hunter's Point Dry Dock in San Francisco. These tube segments were then fl
oated across the bay and sunk into a trench that had been cut through the estuary. The pieces were joined and sealed and the tube was then buried in material that had been dredged from the floor of the bay.
On October 27th, 1928 the Posey Tube opened to traffic. In a gesture of closure the City of Alameda auctioned off the Webster Street Bridge, a 980-foot steel span bridge, to the City of Sacramento for $3,100. Sacramento could easily be said to have gotten the better end of the deal since the bridge they purchased was less than two years old. During the construction of the Posey Tube, and while the Webster Bridge was still in use, a ship had rammed the bridge, damaging it beyond repair and forcing the City of Alameda to rebuild it at a cost of $134,000.
The Webster Tube was constructed later and opened for use in 1963. Interestingly, the second tube was built in exactly the
same manner, which I guess means that there hadn't been that many significant changes in the accepted method for building underwater tunnels.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Webster and Posey Tubes. There is some really compelling local history wrapped up in the creation of these tunnels, and you can't live in Alameda without having some kind of familiarity with them. However, I rode through the tunnel on my bike twice a day for almost two years and now, when faced with the choice of going through the tunnel or going six miles out of my way to ride across the Park Street Bridge, I usually take the long route. It sounds ridiculous, but a large part of why I chose to live at the other end of Alameda was so that I wouldn't have to ride through the Posey Tube every day. At the right time of day you can stand near the Oakland exit of the Posey Tube and see clouds of exhaust, thick black exhaust, billowing out of the tunnel.

The following photo is a historic postcard that I found at, your one-stop-shop for everything related to
Alameda history. I like that it shows what the area around the Oakland exit for the Posey Tube looked like before the construction of all the warehouses in Jack London Square and the highway overpass that stands over it today.

Getting There By B
You probably don't want to ride through the Posey Tube on a bike.
Most people do it once because they're convinced that it can't be as bad as people say it it is, but almost everyone who tries it will tell you they don't ever want to do it again. It's loud, the air is filled with exhaust and particulate, the walls are completely filthy with black smut that will stain your skin and clothing if you brush up against it, and there is a good chance that you'll come head-to-head with another cyclist or a pedestrian and have to negotiate past each other on the very narrow sidewalk. Long story short, it's not a good time. The buildings at the end of the Posey Tube are neat and are worth a ride out to see if you've never really looked at them before, but the tube itself is a bust. It's better to take the Park Street Bridge.


  1. Wow! I have the worst images of me huffing and puffing through a tube filled with car exhaust and simply exploding when someone lights a match!

  2. Agreed, awful ride. Went through toward Oakland on earlier this week and had to pass three other bikers going in the other direction. Not sure if it was better to know others were sharing in my misery.

  3. I used to run into the same guy every morning, and he always had two giant bags of recycling hung on a pole that he carried on his shoulders. I used to have to lift my bike over my head and climb over his stuff. I don't miss that part of my commute.