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Devil's Slide Tunnels — a Massive Art Installation

Here’s a look at a recent visit to the Devil’s Slide tunnels, an architectural and engineering work of art.

On Wednesday Caltrans invited a small media group to tour the tunnel, which included a hard-hat look at the southern portals, a walk through an exit cross passage, and a drive down the twin bridges for a peek inside the northern portals.

There is no doubt that the Devil's Slide tunnels — bore beneath San Pedro Mountain at 30-feet wide and 4,200-feet long — are truly an awesome sight to behold especially when inside and up close. Together in the landscape they are like a massive art installation, striking in design, rich in history, and with a permanent purpose — to get traffic to the other side, safely.

The tunnels are so shiny and new, slathered in concrete, freshly painted and smoothly paved, it’s literally gleaming inside, and the design is magnificent. From the southern portals to the northern, the tunnels curve like the hillsides and slope like the valleys that surround them. The faces of the portals are in line with the angles of the mountain. The walls are textured in various shapes — like scallop shells and rock formations — and look a lot like underwater sea life and granite, shale and sandstone rock outcroppings.

The design of the southern portals blends the natural vegetation and rock formations of the surrounding area. The northern end is especially striking with its nautilus shell shaped entrance, leading to the arched twin bridges gracefully spanning over the valley at Shamrock Ranch.

Designed by architects Javier Chavez of Caltrans and Terrance Bulfin of HNTB Corp., a firm providing architecture, engineering, planning and construction services, and Caltrans engineer M.G. Sahibzada, the project is supposed to be open by now. The latest estimate had the single-lane tunnels opening in late 2012, according to Caltrans. But the date is now slated for end of March, according to Bob Haus, a Caltrans spokesman, who led the media tour.

So what’s the hold up? The finishing touches, of course, and it’s those details — like testing the emergency fire hoses and electrical and operational systems — that mean so much to the success of the tunnel’s opening.

Haus compares it to when you're building a car. “The car is finished, but you need to hook up the lights, test the airbags, and make sure the GPS works,” he said. “It’s in the details right now and it takes time, but we are so close.”

It’s no wonder. For one of the most exciting transportation projects to hit the Bay Area in decades, after five years of tunneling, the Devil’s Slide tunnels are truly an architectural and engineering work of art and they really are finally about to open.

Check here for some more video of the tour and a list of tunnel trivia.

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Alan Dodds February 15, 2013 at 02:34 AM
Am I the only one who thinks the tunnel entrance looks like a hollow wave? I'm going to be surfing right into the mountain!
Anna Baumgarten February 15, 2013 at 04:32 AM
Love the article and the pictures! Can't wait to drive through the tunnel myself :)
Patty hontalas February 15, 2013 at 05:58 AM
The pictures are amazing. I had no idea it was going to look the way it does. I can see the bridge span from my window in my living room. I too can't wait to drive through it.
Tim Kay February 19, 2013 at 09:57 PM
If I had realized that it would take 17 years for them to complete the tunnels, I probably wouldn't have gone door to door in 96 to rally for Measure T. They do look pretty awesome, though.
Christa Bigue February 22, 2013 at 03:58 AM
There were some issues on the south end. Helicopters were brought in to move rocks to help control and eliminate erosion that resulted from heavy rain in November and December.

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