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There are two wiki articles about the 178th Street Tunnel.
Of the two articles, the WikiWand article has more information.
Both articles say the tunnel is used as storage space by the Port Authority.
This url http://www.nycroads.com/roads/trans-manhattan/ contains an excellent presentation on the creation of the 178th and 179th street tunnels, their current usage and potential reuse. Be patient, the url takes a long time to load. The important information is at the end.
I believe that the nycroads url says this 179th Street tunnel opened in 1952 and the 178th street tunnel opened in 1940. Also, according to that url, the Washington Bridge over the Harlem River was built in 1888.
This roadmap from 1954, pre-Cross Bronx Expwy, shows the access ramps from the 178th and 179th street tunnels to the Washington Bridge. There's no Alexander Hamilton Bridge yet.