The Fred Hartman Bridge had been designed to replace the Baytown Tunnel (of depth clearance 40 feet (12.2 m)), which had to be removed when the Houston Ship Channel was deepened to 45 feet (13.7 m), with a minimum 530 feet (161.5 m) bottom width, to accommodate larger ships. The last section of the Baytown Tunnel was removed September 14, 1999 from the Houston Ship Channel, with removal of the tunnel being the responsibility of the Texas Department of Transportation.
Conceived and constructed as a means to improve traffic circulation, the tunnel opened in September 1953 as a replacement facility for the now-defunct Morgans Point Ferry at a final cost of $10 million. The land where the tunnel entered and exited was leased from Exxon by the state for an annual fee of $1.
The tunnel consisted of prefabricated sections that were sunk into place on the floor of the channel. The completed facility had a diameter of 36 feet (11 m) complete with a 1 inch (25 mm) steel shell with 2 feet (0.61 m) of concrete lining. The actual roadbed inside was flat with a ventilation shaft running beneath its surface.
By 1997 a proposal was made to dismantle the unused facility in 350 feet (110 m) long sections, float them down the channel and sink each section in 100 feet (30 m) of water at the Freeport Liberty Ship Reef in creating an artificial reef for marine wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. This plan was scrapped due to both high costs in addition to the process resulting in over 50 closures of the channel to complete. The tunnel was removed by 1998 and its former structure would be salvaged as paving aggregate.