What’s below the pavement in Manhattan?

A compact and congested city center sits atop a spaghetti pile of underground pipes and wires and more.

Here are ten things you might find below the pavement in Manhattan:

  1. Con Edison’s 105 miles of steam pipes heating nearly 2,000 buildings. (Take care – it’s 350 degree heat!)
  2. Water mains. Many lead to buildings. Others to fire hydrants or drinking fountains.
  3. Electrical conduits and telecommunications infrastructure.
  4. Natural gas mains. Beware of the pressure.
  5. Sewage pipes. These have to run downhill in the end.
  6. Storm drainage. Ditto.
  7. Underground storage tanks containing things like Freon or fuel oil or industrial chemicals. Who knows what else.
  8. History, from cobblestones and Colonial foundations to bottles and bones.
  9. Passenger and freight train tunnels. Think PATH, Metro North, and the Long Island Rail Road when they roll into Penn and Grand Central stations.
  10. Subway tubes and stations and the air vents that support them. The city has 275 fully underground stations.

What’s actually down there often remains a mystery, even to public and utility officials. What happens when a corroded pipe bursts?

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