In chilly cities like Montreal and Toronto, residents opt to get around via elaborate networks of tunnels to avoid the biting cold and wind in winter.
Downtown Houston’s underground tunnel system is also used primarily by residents who don’t want to face the weather on their way to work or during lunch breaks, but for different reasons. Climate-controlled, the seven-mile network of tunnels is reliably cool and dry.
Learn more about Houston’s downtown tunnels here.
Inception and Construction
Inspired by underground construction in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza, former Texas governor Ross Sterling commissioned tunnels to connect properties he owned in downtown Houston in the 1930s. Entertainment entrepreneur Will Horwitz followed suit by connecting three of his theaters, reducing the cost of cooling in the process. Slowly but surely, additional tunnels were built out of private interest by building owners and operators.
In 1961, tunnels connecting the Bank of the Southwest Building with the 1010 Garage and Mellie Esperson Building gave the general public access to underground tunnels for the first time. Throughout the 1970s, tunnels excavated beneath Main Street expanded public access to the network. Since then, the network has continued to expand, and plans for additional tunnels are in the works even today.
The Downtown Houston Tunnel Network Today
Today, 95 blocks of Houston’s downtown is connected via underground tunnels. Concentrated in the Central Business District and western part of downtown, the downtown Houston tunnel network is easily accessible. The air-conditioned tunnels appeal to everyone who want to avoid Houston’s heat, humidity, and precipitation.
Wells Fargo Plaza and McKinney Place Parking Garage are two of the most popular entry and exit points, but the tunnels can be accessed from more than 80 points. Many access points are located inside downtown Houston office buildings. The tunnels are located between one and three stories below street level, at an average of about 20 feet underground.
Eating, Drinking, and Shopping Underground
Hundreds of eateries, shops, and service retailers operate throughout the tunnel network, employing thousands of Houstonians. Those who are fond of the air-conditioned tunnels can pick up a coffee on their way to work or grab a burger, sandwich, salad, or barbecue for lunch. Haircuts, shoe shines, and dental cleanings are all offered in the tunnels. ATMs can also be found at various points throughout the tunnel network.
Houston’s downtown tunnels aren’t everyone’s preferred method of getting around downtown, but many are thankful for them during storms and periods of sweltering heat. If you haven’t used the tunnels, take a walk underground to find out whether they’re for you. But keep in mind, as they are designed primarily to serve those working in downtown Houston, the tunnels are only open on weekdays, from about 6 AM to 6 PM.