Channel Crossing

THE 31-mile Channel Tunnel, connecting Folkestone to Calais, was quietly completed this month as if it were an obscure underground happening rather than a pioneering underwater achievement.

At the English end, men in hard hats stood next to a modest sign reading ``Completing the Link'' and offered one another a reserved handshake.

On the whole, the press in the United States played it as an inside-pages story, dutifully but dully recording the stats - a price tag of $15 billion and a human cost of 10 workmen killed in on-the-job accidents. The first train making a test run required a little over half an hour to travel end to end.

When the tunnel opens for business in May, Queen Elizabeth II and French President Francois Mitterrand will be present, and doubtless the decibels will rise. But when the tunnel was finished, the front page belonged to violence in the Gaza Strip and cuts in the Pentagon budget, not to mention the troubles of Michael Jackson.

Why did the tunnel make a gurgle rather than a splash? If Napoleon's engineers, who first conceived the idea, could witness the realization of their dream, surely they would regard it as the eighth wonder of the world.

Perhaps it is understandable that a railroad tunnel, even one marvelously beneath the sea, should seem old Jules Verne stuff - retro-tech in a month when astronauts spacewalked to repair the Hubble telescope and scientists at Princeton generated 3 million watts of electricity from a fusion reactor.

But in a year when infrastructure has become a buzzword, why were more hard hats not thrown in the air to salute this most impressive of infrastructures?

In a year characterized, from Bosnia to Somalia, by things being blown up and people divided from people, this consummate act of construction and connection should have been more highly honored.

Could it be that yesterday's notion of a miracle is taken for granted by the time it actually happens, so that the mouths once opened in awe remain open to yawn?

Whatever the explanation for the ho-hum response, it is not excuse enough.

The phrase, ``the light at the end of the tunnel,'' has become a favorite figure of speech for hope. What hope - what a sense of triumph - should spring from seeing light at the end of such a tunnel! Why wait until May to celebrate?

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.