Construction of the Bankhead Tunnel began in 1938. It was named for John Hollis Bankhead, an Alabama native and speaker of the House of Representatives, who was also the grandfather of Tallulah Bankhead. Built at a cost of $4 million (or more than $65 million today), it cut 7 1/2 miles off the time needed to cross from Mobile to the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. The tunnel opened February 20, 1941. On that first day, and for the only time in its history, bicycles and pedestrians were allowed to travel through the tunnel. Legend has it that nearly 75,000 people took advantage of the opportunity and were led by then-mayor Cecil F. Bates. The Bankhead Tunnel was designed by and constructed by Wayne Palmer. To help pay for the tunnel, a toll of 25 cents per car was charged from the structure's opening until 1973, when the George Wallace Tunnel was completed. This 25 cents toll was much cheaper than the $1.00 per car charged to cross the old Cochrane Bridge or the $3.10 per vehicle toll charged by the old steamboats.
The Bankhead Tunnel consists of seven sections (two sections of 255 feet each and five sections of 298 feet each). Its tubes were constructed by the Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company. When completed, the tubes were floated down river and sunk into place. At the time it opened, the Bankhead Tunnel was an engineering marvel. Its completion made news around the country. Since its opening, millions of cars have traversed its 3,389 feet. Today, because it is so narrow, only passenger cars and light trucks are allowed through it. Heavier vehicles must either use the Wallace Tunnel or travel around the city using the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge.
The images above come from a collection of 137 black and white slides that document construction of the tunnel.
© 2015 | USA Springhill, Room 0722, Mobile AL 36688
For questions or comments
Date last changed: September 24, 2015 1:20 PM