Houston tunnel system

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The Houston tunnel system is a network of subterranean, climate-controlled, pedestrian walkways that links 95 full city blocks 20 feet (6 m) below Houston's downtown streets. It is approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) long.[1] There are similar systems in Chicago, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Montreal and Toronto. The first link was built in the 1930s by Ross Sterling to connect two neighboring buildings he owned, inspired by the tunnel system at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Soon after, Will Horwitz, an entertainment entrepreneur, connected three of his vaudeville and movie theaters to save on air-conditioning.[2] Architectural historian Stephen Fox has stated that the idea for the tunnel system came when the Bank of the Southwest Building was "linked by tunnel to the 1010 Garage and the Mellie Esperson Building" in 1961.[3] Many of the tunnels were flooded and/or damaged by Hurricane Harvey, and therefore are now closed to the public.[citation needed]

A typical map to help navigate the tunnels.


The Tunnel is a series of underground passageways that, with above-ground skywalks, link office towers to hotels, banks, corporate and government offices, restaurants, retail stores, and the Houston Theater District. Portions of the tunnel contain gift shops, newsstands, banks, technology centers, flower shops, copy centers, dry cleaners, and food courts similar to a major shopping mall. They are widely and heavily used by office workers and tourists. Only two buildings, Wells Fargo Plaza and McKinney Garage on Main[4], offer direct access from the street to the Tunnel; other entry points are from street-level stairs, escalators, and elevators inside buildings that are connected to the tunnel. Access is allowed to the general public into these buildings with few restrictions, during normal operating hours, in order to reach the Tunnel.

Most of the retail areas of the Tunnel are in the basements of these buildings, connected by passageways. While walking through, one can determine which building s/he is in by the unique signage and/or architectural design of that building, as well as the wayfinding system and Houston Tunnel maps (an example of which is shown to the right). Most of the Tunnel is in the western half of downtown Houston.[5] The tunnel is generally open during weekday business hours only.

The Tunnel has been criticized for its numerous stairways, especially in the northern portion, which make wheelchair use traffic impassable in some locations. Bob Eury director of the Houston Downtown District, stated that, "These areas haven't been made ADA-compliant because it would be difficult or impossible to put in ramps and still leave enough headroom for pedestrians."[6]

Discontinuous portions[edit]

The Harris County tunnel at the far north side of downtown is not connected to the rest of the system by either tunnels or skywalks. It connects Harris County courts, jails, and associated buildings totaling 10 blocks. Six blocks of the St. Joseph Medical Center are connected via skywalks at the southeast corner of downtown near the Pierce elevated.

The Houston Chronicle complex, at 801 North Texas, was connected to the Tunnel until those buildings were imploded in 2017; the newspaper's operations relocated to the former Houston Post complex (off the Southwest Freeway) in 2014.

Other parts not connected to the main Tunnel are the skywalk connections between the Hilton-Americas Hotel and George R. Brown Convention Center, the skywalk connections at the Toyota Center, and at the Houston Public Library.

One of several open-air sections of the tunnels.

Buildings connected[edit]

This is a partial listing.


  1. ^ "Downtown Houston". Retrieved 20 June 2016. 
  2. ^ Ralph Blumenthal (August 21, 2007). "It's Lonesome in This Old Town, Until You Go Underground". New York Times. Retrieved December 19, 2011. 
  3. ^ David Kaplan (November 1, 2009). "Downtown tunnel system still drawing entrepreneurs". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved December 19, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Downtown Tunnels". www.downtownhouston.org. Retrieved 2017-12-19. 
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-31. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  6. ^ Bill Murphy (August 18, 2008). "Downtown Houston tunnels unkind to wheelchair users". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved December 19, 2011. 

External links[edit]