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Harbor Tunnel - Túnel del Puerto

The Havana Harbor Tunnel: A Marvel of Cuban Civil Engineering

The Havana Harbor Tunnel is an engineering marvel that has significantly improved transportation and connectivity in the Cuban capital. This impressive infrastructure project has overcome the challenges of traversing the bay, providing a vital link between different parts of the city. In this article, we will explore the importance, design, construction, and benefits of the tunnel under the Bay of Havana.

The Need for the Tunnel

The city of Havana developed mainly to the south and to the west, making communication with the eastern part of the city difficult. To address this issue, the idea of a large bridge over the Bay of Havana was considered but ultimately discarded. By the mid-1950s, it became necessary to urbanize the east of the city and provide convenient access to the Vía Blanca while relieving congestion on the Central Highway. The Havana Harbor Tunnel project was initiated to meet these needs.

Design and Construction

The design and construction of the Havana Harbor Tunnel involved meticulous planning and engineering expertise. Advanced tunneling techniques, such as the immersed tube method, were used. The tunnel comprises three types of structures: the Havana side, the underwater journey, and the eastern shore. Notable features include a super cloverleaf design for access to Havana, precast concrete caissons for the underwater crossing, and a monumental design for the East access.

The Havana Harbor Tunnel is 733 m (0.45 miles) long, and the draft ranges from 12 (39 feet) to 14 m (46 feet). The total length of the link work is approximately 1600 m (0.97 miles), including the West (Havana) and East (Toll Zone) accesses. The tunnel has four traffic lanes, each 3.35 m (11 feet) wide, grouped two by two and separated by a dividing wall. Two 0.90 m (3 feet) wide sidewalks are attached to the dividing wall for monitoring the tunnel. The dividing wall has openings 1.20 m (4 feet) wide and 2.20 m (7 feet) high, spaced approximately 12 m (39 feet) apart. The minimum vertical gauge is 4.25 m (14 feet) to the right of the curb, which limits the tracks. 

Harbor Tunnel - Túnel del Puerto

Engineering Feats and Challenges

Building a tunnel under the bay presented various engineering challenges, including excavating through different soil and rock formations, managing water pressure, and ensuring structural integrity. Engineers used advanced tunneling techniques, such as shield tunneling and drilling, to overcome these challenges and ensure a secure and stable tunnel.

For the construction of the five caissons, they built a dry dock using a system of cement injections into the rock to waterproof it. This system was also used in the places where the ventilation buildings and tunnel portals were built. Over a period of two months, they carried out more than 56,000 m (34 miles) of drilling to depths of 20 m (66 feet), and injected a total of 30,000 t (33,069 ton) of grouting. The underwater trench excavation for the five prestressed concrete caissons was carried out with explosives and required dredging 80,000 m3 (2,825,176 cubic feet) of sand in the central part under caisson number 3 between levels -12 m (-39 feet) and -24 m (-79 feet), as well as 200,000 m3 (7,062,940 cubic feet) of rock on both sides of the middle caisson. The average depth of the trench was greater than 10 m (33 feet) with a width of 30 m (98 feet) to allow for the comfortable placement of the caissons. The dredging work began in April 1956 and ended in March 1957. 

The dry dock was 130 m (426 feet) long, 60 m (197 feet) wide, and had a depth of -9 m (-29 feet), which allowed for the simultaneous execution of two caissons. Its connection to the sea was replaced with sheet piles each time the operation to remove the caissons was completed. Once built and sealed, the caissons were towed to their final location, and later their ballast was increased to achieve their descent. Once they verified their alignment and leveling, they ballasted caissons to the maximum to secure them inside the trench. Next, they made the joints using submerged concrete. The joints are 0.80 m (31.5 inches) wide and approximately 1.50 m (5 feet) thick. The finishing of the joints was carried out with bolts and welding to a 20 mm (0.80 inches) rolled steel ring that was embedded in the ends of the tubes.

The total cost of the project ascended to 28,500,000.00 pesos, and the period of execution was 30 months, inaugurating on May 31, 1958.

Key Features of the Tunnel

The Havana Harbor Tunnel incorporates several key features that contribute to its functionality and safety. These include multiple lanes for traffic flow in both directions, emergency exits at regular intervals, advanced monitoring systems for real-time surveillance, efficient lighting and ventilation systems.

Functionality and Benefits

The tunnel provides a seamless and efficient transportation link for vehicles crossing the Bay of Havana. It significantly reduces travel distances and time, avoiding the need for lengthy detours or congested surface routes. The improved connectivity benefits various sectors, including commuters, businesses, freight transportation, and tourism, contributing to economic growth and development.

Harbor Tunnel - Túnel del Puerto

Enhancing Transportation and Connectivity

The Havana Harbor Tunnel has revolutionized transportation and connectivity in the city. It provides a direct link between the two sides of the bay, eliminating the need for lengthy detours or congested surface routes. It has facilitated the smooth movement of people, goods, and services, easing traffic congestion and improving overall mobility. The tunnel’s strategic location and design have enhanced connectivity between different neighborhoods, stimulating economic activities and urban development.

Maintenance and Safety

Regular maintenance and monitoring are essential to ensure the tunnel’s long-term functionality and safety. To uphold safety standards, conducted inspection of the tunnel structure, maintenance of mechanical and electrical systems, emergency response protocols, surveillance systems and continuous monitoring of air quality and traffic flow are conducted . Well-trained personnel and comprehensive emergency response plans are in place to address any unforeseen situations promptly.


The Havana Harbor Tunnel stands as a remarkable engineering achievement and a symbol of connectivity for the city. Its construction has revolutionized transportation in the region, improving accessibility, enhancing economic activity, and fostering social integration. The tunnel continues to serve as a testament to Havana’s commitment to infrastructure development and progress.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: How long is the Havana Harbor Tunnel? 

The Havana Harbor Tunnel, also known as the Túnel de la Bahía, has a total length of approximately 734 meters (2,408 feet). This impressive underground passage connects La Habana Vieja neighborhood in Havana to the eastern side of the bay, providing a direct route beneath the waters of Havana Bay. The tunnel serves as a critical transportation link, easing traffic congestion and improving connectivity between different parts of the city.

Q2: How deep is the Havana Harbor Tunnel?

The Havana Harbor Tunnel, also known as the Túnel de la Bahía, has a maximum depth of approximately 17 meters (56 feet) below the water surface. This depth allows the tunnel to pass beneath the waters of Havana Bay and provide a seamless underground passage for vehicles. They carefully determined the depth during the design and construction phases to ensure the structural integrity and safety of the tunnel while accommodating the water depth of the bay.

Q3: How was the tunnel constructed under the bay?

The Havana Harbor Tunnel was constructed using the immersed tube method, which is a commonly employed technique for building underwater tunnels. The construction process involved several key steps:

  1. Site Investigation: Prior to construction, they conducted extensive site investigations to assess the geological conditions and understand the seabed characteristics. This information was crucial for determining the feasibility and design of the tunnel.
  2. Preparation of Trench: They dredged, or excavated, a trench on the bay’s seabed along the planned tunnel route. This trench served as the foundation for the tunnel sections.
  3. Construction of Tunnel Sections: Workers prefabricated the tunnel sections, known as “immersed tubes,” on land or in a dry dock. These tube segments were typically made of reinforced concrete and built to precise specifications.
  4. Submerging the Tunnel Sections: They carefully floated and transported the immersed tubes to the designated location in the trench. Once positioned correctly, workers pumped water into the tubes to submerge them into the trench. The tubes were then precisely aligned and connected to form a continuous tunnel.
  5. Ballasting and Securing: To ensure the stability and integrity of the tunnel, workers ballasted the immersed tubes with materials such as gravel or concrete. This added weight provided resistance against buoyancy forces. Additionally, the tubes were securely fastened to the seabed to prevent movement or displacement.
  6. Sealing and Waterproofing: They applied special sealing techniques and waterproofing measures to ensure the tunnel’s resistance to water ingress. This involved the use of sealants, membranes, and other waterproofing materials to create a watertight barrier.
  7. Backfilling and Land Reinstatement: Once the tunnel was securely in place, workers backfilled the trench with suitable materials to cover and protect the immersed tubes. The backfilling process also helped to reinstate the seabed and restore the natural environment.
  8. Installation of Services and Finishing: After completing the main structure of the tunnel, workers installed essential services such as ventilation systems, lighting, communication networks, and other utilities. They finished the interior of the tunnel with appropriate surfacing, signage, and safety equipment.

It’s important to note that the specific construction methods and techniques may vary depending on the project and site conditions. However, the immersed tube method described above is commonly used for underwater tunnel construction and was likely employed for the tunnel under the Bay of Havana.

Q4: What safety measures are in place to ensure user security?

The Havana Harbor Tunnel incorporates several safety measures to ensure user security. Designed to prevent accidents, mitigate risks, and ensure a safe passage for vehicles and pedestrians, the tunnel incorporates key safety measures, including:

  1. Surveillance Systems: A comprehensive surveillance system, including strategically placed cameras throughout the tunnel, equips the tunnel for enhanced security measures. These cameras monitor traffic flow, detect incidents or abnormalities, and enable real-time monitoring by dedicated personnel who can respond swiftly to any emergencies.
  2. Emergency Exits and Evacuation Routes: In the event of an emergency, they equipped the tunnel with clearly marked emergency exits and evacuation routes. These exits provide a means for users to quickly exit the tunnel and reach a place of safety. Emergency lighting and signage help guide users during evacuations.
  3. Fire Detection and Suppression Systems: Advanced fire detection systems installed in the tunnel quickly identify the presence of smoke or fire. In the tunnel, workers have strategically placed automatic sprinkler systems, fire hydrants, and fire extinguishers to suppress and control fires, minimizing the potential for spreading and providing additional safety measures.
  4. Ventilation Systems: Robust ventilation systems in the tunnel ensure a continuous supply of fresh air and remove any potentially harmful gases or pollutants. These systems maintain appropriate air quality levels, minimize the risk of respiratory issues, and aid in managing visibility during emergencies.
  5. Traffic Management Systems: To maintain a smooth flow of traffic and minimize the risk of accidents, the tunnel employs advanced traffic management systems. These systems include variable message signs, traffic lights, speed limit enforcement, and lane control mechanisms to guide and regulate the movement of vehicles.
  6. Regular Inspections and Maintenance: To ensure the tunnel’s structural integrity, lighting, ventilation, and safety systems are in optimal working condition, workers conduct regular inspections and maintenance procedures. They promptly address any necessary repairs or upgrades to maintain the tunnel’s safety standards.
  7. Public Safety Education and Communication: Authorities conduct public safety education campaigns to raise awareness among users about safe practices, emergency procedures, and the importance of adhering to traffic rules within the tunnel. They install communication systems, such as emergency call boxes, to facilitate direct communication with tunnel operators in case of emergencies or incidents.

Tunnel management authorities and personnel responsible for maintaining the tunnel’s operations continuously review, update, and adhere to these safety measures. Their goal is to ensure the highest level of user security and to promptly respond to any potential emergencies or incidents that may arise within the tunnel.

Q5: Is the Havana Harbor Tunnel open to pedestrians?

No, the Havana Harbor Tunnel is typically not open to pedestrians. The tunnel primarily serves vehicular traffic, providing a convenient route for cars, motorcycles, and other vehicles to cross the bay. Authorities typically direct pedestrians to use alternative modes of transportation. The focus of the tunnel is to improve traffic flow and connectivity for vehicles in Havana.

In this article, we have explored the importance, design, construction, and benefits of the Havana Harbor Tunnel. This engineering marvel has transformed transportation in the city, offering a convenient and efficient route across the bay. The tunnel’s functionality, safety measures, and contribution to enhancing connectivity have made it an integral part of Havana’s infrastructure.

©️ 2024 Eastern Engineering Group wrote and published this article. All rights reserved.


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