Climb inside the massive tunnel 60 feet below downtown L.A.
Ten weeks in and 60 feet beneath the streets of downtown Los Angeles, the miners have clawed through nearly 2,600 feet of earth.
At 5 a.m. on a cool Thursday morning, they gather in the construction yard for the start of another shift.
The moon, just starting to wane, hangs above the distant skyscrapers as the men stretch like athletes and huddle to hear the latest safety report.
The day before, they had been unable to dig. Gas — most likely methane — had been detected in the tunnel, and they had to wait for state inspectors to give them the OK.
“It’s all good now,” their foreman announces, “but we’ll still be monitoring, so be careful.”
Coolers in hand, hard hats and fluorescent vests reflecting the glare of the light towers, they clomp down seven flights of stairs into a large open pit, shored up by wooden timbers and crowded with vats of grout, portable trailers and man lifts.
The mouth of the tunnel gapes at them. The moon, the clouds and the city disappear as they enter.
In 2021, commuters will follow their steps, barreling through an S-shaped tunnel — the $1.75-billion Regional Connector project — 1.9 miles out of Little Tokyo, north to Bunker Hill and west to 7th and Flower streets, a transit corridor that will link Long Beach to Azusa and Santa Monica to East L.A.
Construction workers will lay almost a mile of that tunnel through a methodical excavation of Flower Street, building the subway and then rebuilding the street. The rest, however, is being dug the hard way.