Meet 'Pat', The Drill That'll Dig A New Underwater Tunnel From Staten Island To Brooklyn

New York City's newest toy, a 110-ton, 300-foot-long Caterpillar boring machine named "Pat," will soon spearhead a $250 million water tunnel project. Digging a 12-foot diameter tunnel almost two miles long, Pat will create the replacement for two other, shallower tunnels currently in the way of expanding the port city's shipping capacity.

The Big Apple wants to remain the capital of the material world. To do so, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's website, the city will have to accommodate larger Post-Panamax container ships in its port.

Normally, bringing in bigger ships is as simple as digging a few extra feet down into the muck along the shipping channel, which is now about 45-feet-deep. But the two tunnels which currently supply water to God's Golden Rock — as my friend's departed Staten Island native father used to call it — run at depths of 56 and 60 feet. That's too close for comfort when city fathers wish to increase the shipping channel's depth to 50 feet.

The new water tunnel will be 100 feet below the surface, and Pat, the Caterpillar earth pressure balance tunnel boring machine, will chew up and spit out 200 cubic yards of sand and sediment per day as it churns through the harbor's soft bed. A spokesperson from the New York City Economic Development Corporation said that the machine will advance four feet at a time, leaving behind a concrete-lined tunnel 12 feet in diameter and more than 9,000 feet long. Workers will then install a 6-foot diameter water main inside the tunnel, adding 6,545 feet of new water mains to Staten Island and 1,700 feet to Brooklyn. The pipe will deliver 5 million gallons of water to Staten Island every day, with the capability of gushing 150 million gallons through the pipe in an emergency.

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The water tunnel project is part of New York City's comprehensive long range plan, and involves planning input from a number of different local, state and federal agencies. The end goal for the port is to widen and deepen shipping lanes — under the purvey of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey — running in and out of New York Harbor. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers figures the shipping lane project will be done by 2014.

That target date is no cooincidence. The Panama Canal Authority plans to have a third, larger lane of locks completed and operational by 2014, 100 years after the canal first opened. East coast cities including New York City, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Miami are planning and expanding their ports accordingly.

Currently, Panama canal lock chambers are 1,050 feet long, 110 feet wide and 41.2 feet deep — not quite large enough to accommodate the U.S. Navy's Nimitz Class aircraft carriers, which are nothing short of floating cities. The canal's new locks will be 1,400 feet long, 180 feet wide and 60 feet deep.

New York Harbor is the East Coast's largest port, accommodating about 40 percent of its shipping trade. The only bigger ports in the U.S. are California's massive Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Keeping New York Harbor's new, larger shipping lanes dredged to the appropriate size over the next ten years will cost the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey an estimated $1 billion.

But according to Bloomberg, in addition to boosting Staten Island's shipping and reveiving industry, residents need not worry about their water supply when the dredges start digging through the Verazzano Narrows. Since the 1935, when New York City Water Tunnel No. 2 was completed, Staten Island has gotten its water from upstate via Brooklyn. I'm not sure what the groundwater situation is there, but New York City's mountain derived Croton, Catskill and Delaware River water supplies provide some of the cleanest, best tasting drinking water of any city in the world.

Staten Island's new tunnel is only the tip of the iceberg as far Gotham's water projects go. Workers have been boring through solid rock hundreds of feet below the city since 1970 to make sure there's enough water piped in for a million or so extra people by mid-century. So as Caterpillar's big mole burrows beneath shipping lanes supplying the city so nice they named it twice with all its glitz and glam, Staten Island's nearly 500,000 residents shouldn't notice a difference at the tap.

Photo Credit: nycmayorsoffice on Instagram