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For water crossings, a tunnel is generally more costly to construct than a bridge. Navigational considerations may limit the use of high bridges or drawbridge spans intersecting with shipping channels, necessitating a tunnel.
Bridges usually require a larger footprint on each shore than tunnels. In areas with expensive real estate, such as Manhattan and urban Hong Kong, this is a strong factor in tunnels' favor. Boston's Big Dig project replaced elevated roadways with a tunnel system to increase traffic capacity, hide traffic, reclaim land, redecorate, and reunite the city with the waterfront.
The 1934 Queensway Road Tunnel under the River Mersey at Liverpool, was chosen over a massively high bridge for defence reasons. It was feared aircraft could destroy a bridge in times of war. Maintenance costs of a massive bridge to allow the world's largest ships navigate under was considered higher than a tunnel. Similar conclusions were met for the 1971 Kingsway Tunnel under the River Mersey.
Examples of water-crossing tunnels built instead of bridges include the Holland Tunnel and Lincoln Tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan in New York City, and the Elizabeth River tunnels between Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, the 1934 River Mersey road Queensway Tunnel and the Westerschelde tunnel, Zeeland, Netherlands.
Other reasons for choosing a tunnel instead of a bridge include avoiding difficulties with tides, weather and shipping during construction (as in the 51.5-kilometre or 32.0 mi Channel Tunnel), aesthetic reasons (preserving the above-ground view, landscape, and scenery), and also for weight capacity reasons (it may be more feasible to build a tunnel than a sufficiently strong bridge).
Some water crossings are a mixture of bridges and tunnels, such as the Denmark to Sweden link and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in the eastern United States.
There are particular hazards with tunnels, especially from vehicle fires when combustion gases can asphyxiate users, as happened at the Gotthard Road Tunnel in Switzerland in 2001. One of the worst railway disasters ever, the Balvano train disaster, was caused by a train stalling in the Armi tunnel in Italy in 1944, killing 426 passengers.