As cars pass over 10th Street, few drivers realize there's a tunnel 15 feet below them where cafeteria trays, laundry carts and inmates are passing.

As cars pass over 10th Street, few drivers realize there's a tunnel 15 feet below them where cafeteria trays, laundry carts and inmates are passing.

"They have no clue," said Niki G., a cafeteria worker who doesn't want her last name printed because she works with inmates. "I'm down here pushing a food cart from the jail just below them."

The final piece of the 280-foot tunnel that connects the county's Juvenile Services Center to the jail and courthouse was completed in 2004. But few community members are aware of the underground passageways that allow workers to safely bring inmates between the three county buildings and to easily deliver meals and clean laundry from the jail to the juvenile building.

"It's not very well-known," said Lt. Christine Dismukes, jail commander. "But it's a pretty long tunnel."

Florescent lights and cameras hang from the ceiling of the gray concrete tunnel, illuminating dust and scuff marks on the floor. Three electronically controlled doors seal off the entrances.

"There's no rats," Dismukes said. "It's a tunnel, though. There's no windows."

The original tunnel, a reinforced concrete structure 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide, was built in 1981 and connected the jail at 787 W. Eighth St. with the courthouse at 100 S. Oakdale Ave. The branch to the juvenile building at 609 W. 10th St. was added to make it easier to deliver basic supplies from the jail's cafeteria and laundry room, as well as to transport inmates to and from the new facility.

Between two and 15 handcuffed inmates are typically transported through the concrete passageways daily, in the presence of at least one sheriff's deputy, Dismukes said. Inmates might be coming from the jail to the courthouse or to drug court, which is housed in the juvenile building. Juvenile inmates who are being tried as adults are also transported to the courthouse via the tunnel.

In recent years fewer inmates have passed through the tunnel because judges have begun using video conferencing more frequently in court proceedings, Dismukes said.

Cafeteria workers push food carts through the passageways three times a day, beginning at 6:30 a.m. Late at night, a graveyard crew picks up dirty laundry from the juvenile building, washes it at the jail and returns it. About once a month, an inmate pushes a mop through the tunnel.

Those workers, plus a handful of inmates, sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement officials are among the few people who have stepped foot in the passageway.

"When it was first built, I was excited to come down here," Niki said as she pushed a cart loaded with trays of green beans, chili, applesauce and mixed fruit Thursday. "But after you've done it 600 times, it loses its charm."

On normal days there's nothing creepy about the underground passageway, she said. But she does fear having to push the cart during a power outage.

"One time the electricity went out and the generators don't come on down here, so the person pushing the cart had to feel his way along the walls," Niki said. "I never want to have to do that — I'm afraid of the dark."

Reach reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-776-4459 or email hguzik@mailtribune.com.