Chicago's Stack of Tunnels Explored In Friendly Drawings

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Below Chicago--like most cities--lies a stack of subterranean secrets. WBEZ's always-enlightening project, Curious City, has delved into Chicago's underworld to bring us a quick lesson in the windy city's hidden infrastructure ... with drawings! 

As WBEZ's Robin Amer explains, there are six distinct sets of tunnels below the city that stretch down more than 300 feet. There are pedestrian walkways, subway tunnels, freight tunnels, abandoned cable car tunnels, water tunnels and the ominously-named "deep tunnel."

And it is deep, as is made clear in this charming visual rendering of the tunnel stack drawn Erik Nelson Rodriguez of the Illustrated Press.

Amer expresses a healthy dose of wonder at all that's buried below the busy sidewalks of downtown: 

"The city would be lost without these tunnels. Sometimes they’re hidden, and sometimes they’re just overlooked, taken for granted by the people who walk above them. But trust us — 2.8 million people would notice the tunnels’ absence because they’d have no reliable source of clean tap water, no flood control and no crosstown “L” service in the Loop...

"They may be obscured from sight and from memory (or even sealed off), but they’re still an important part of the city’s built environment. As one source put it, we ignore the tunnels at our own peril."

It's worth the full read of her story at WBEZ, particularly as Amer ponders whether Chicago is at the end of the age of tunnels. Most of the the stack was built during a population boom that has long since past, a time when spiking populations demanded new infrastructure. Recently, Chicago has been losing population and technology may soon present new ways to offer the same services that tunnels are needed for. 

Only one of the tunnel systems is still in active construction. The deep one. 

See the image here, and the full story here