Newsmakers 2015: A year of tunnels and bridges

2015 was a year for tunnels, both famous and infamous, while bridges also soared in the news

    Elton McDonald’s York University construction wasn’t the only tunnel to garner attention in 2015. This was a year for tunnels, both famous and infamous.

    150714201006-02-el-chapo-escape-tunnel-large-169El Chapo’s tunnel

    When you can’t go over, you have to go under. The Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman knows this best, having escaped, for the second time, from a maximum-security prison through an elaborate tunnel in July. For more than a year, he toiled beneath a shower tile in his cell to dig a hole, which connected to a tunnel nearly 1,500 m long, equipped with a track for a converted motorcycle to zip him away to freedom. While he had help from people on the outside, he also had unintentional help on the inside from the guards reportedly distracted by their games of solitaire.

    (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)

    (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)

    The Channel Tunnel

    Tunnels represented escape of another sort for a group of migrants, primarily from West Africa and Afghanistan, seeking asylum. On the French side of the Channel Tunnel, which connects the country to Britain, about 2,000 migrants stormed the train terminal in hopes of crossing the border this summer. Among the migrants, nearly a dozen were killed in the chaos. Meanwhile, European citizens on summer holidays fretted about four-hour train delays.

    El Chapo’s other tunnel?

    Twelve tons of marijuana were on their way from Mexico to the U.S. when authorities discovered the longest cross-border tunnel ever found, complete with lighting, a railway and an oxygen supply. It stretched 730 m from Tijuana, Mexico, to San Diego. Although the culprits have not been confirmed, the drug trade in Tijuana is largely controlled by tunnel master El Chapo himself.

    (Ports Toronto)

    (Ports Toronto)

    The Toronto Island tunnel

    Located on Toronto Island, the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport has always been lauded for its convenient location. The trip to the runway is even quicker now that passengers can walk (or ride a series of moving sidewalks) through the 260-m pedestrian tunnel, which was completed in July amid controversy. For critics, the tunnel is a signal of the airport’s expansion into an area that some see as a unique part of the city’s cultural history.

    (Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office, via AP)

    (Darren McGee/New York State Governor’s Office, via AP)

    New York prison tunnel

    Prisoners strike again as prime builders and users of tunnels. Richard Matt and David Sweat, two convicts at a maximum-security prison in New York state, tunnelled their way out of jail in July. Sweat told reporters he used a hacksaw and other tools to break into existing passageways beneath the jail and spent his nights crawling through them to find an escape route. The men had help from a female prison guard, but their escape was far from successful. A month-long manhunt ended with Matt being shot and killed, while Sweat was captured near the Canadian border; he pleaded guilty last week to escape charges.

      Not be outdone by feats of subterranean engineering, bridges soared in the news, too, this year.



      The boondoggle bridge

      There’s already a bridge between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit. However, the Ambassador Bridge was deemed to be too slow. Hence the $2.2-billion Gordie Howe International Bridge. A Canadian-U.S. joint project set to be finished in 2019, the bridge takes its name from a beloved hockey player. But its cost turned out to be a lot more Canadian; the federal government agreed to foot the bill for the customs checkpoint on the Detroit side.

      (Chinatopix Via AP) CHINA OUT

      (Chinatopix Via AP) CHINA OUT

      The glass bridge (mind the cracks)

      If you’d be scared to cross a glass bridge suspended a kilometre above ground, stretching between two cliffs in western China, your fears would be justified. The bridge opened in early September as a dramatic walkway in a geological park in Yuntai. But weeks later, cracks began appearing in the floor, which is 2.4 cm thick. One man reported people screaming and running. A spokesperson from the local tourism bureau stated safety was not at risk. Still, it’s fitting that the name of the structure translates to “bravemen’s bridge.”

      Bat bridge

      A new bridge in Monster, a town in the Netherlands, caters to both bats and people. The “bat bridge,” as it’s called in English, allows cyclists and pedestrians to cross a river, while its underbelly is designed to be a winter roosting site for local bat colonies. Since the bats formerly spent winters inside WWII bunkers, there’ll be no more scary surprises for tourists visiting historic sites.

      Israelis perform Yoga during the International Yoga Day in Tel Aviv, Israel,  Sunday, June 21, 2015. Thousands of yoga enthusiasts took part in mass yoga programs to mark the first International Yoga Day throughout the world. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

      (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

      The bad karma bridge

      Imagine thousands of yoga practitioners uniting for practice on International Yoga Day, suspended over pristine waters on the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. The event, “Om the Bridge,” almost happened, but B.C. Premier Christy Clark was scolded for supporting an event that would cost the city $150,000 in security and fall on the same day as National Aboriginal Day. When Clark decided she wouldn’t attend because the event had become “too political,” she met with even more criticism, with one Vancouver weekly magazine deeming it the “dumbest political move of the year.”

      A Hollywood goodbye

      Eighty-three years old is relatively young in bridge years, but L.A.’s 6th Street Bridge had to go. The viaduct, which appeared in Grease, Kanye West videos and Lost episodes, threatened to deteriorate and was shut down in October. Instead of a funeral, locals held a festival, complete with art tributes and tacos. As for the replacement bridge due to open in 2019, they’ll cross it when it comes.

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