Saturday, November 02, 2013

Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel

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On my recent trip to Wallops Island, VA, I flew in to the Norfolk airport and then crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to get to the Eastern Shore side of the bay. After I planned this out, it took roughly a millisecond for me to go, hey, here's an idea, I'll take some photos of the bridge while I'm there and do a blog post about it.

This is by far the largest bridge I've covered here. It spans the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, and it just goes on and on for 23 miles. Most individual parts of the bridge really aren't that remarkable; much of the distance is over shallow water, this being an estuary and all, so the bridge is just a low trestle structure over those parts. There are two tunnel segments though, along with one higher bridge segment, to accommodate the bay's shipping channels. The reasoning behind the tunnels (as opposed to building more bridge segments) is that the Hampton Roads region is home to the world's largest naval base, and the navy could be blocked in port if the Rooskies or other evildoers managed to collapse bridges into the shipping channels.

At either end of each tunnel is a small artificial island. The island closest to the Norfolk side of the bay actually has a restaurant, gift shop, and fishing pier. (The others have no facilities and I'm not sure you're even allowed to stop on them.) I naturally had to stop and have a look around. Partly for the whole photo / blog post thing, and partly because I didn't get to stop there on my only other trip across the bridge, on a family trip to the East Coast back in 1987. My mom decided it was a tacky tourist trap and she turned up her nose at the idea. So I pretty much had to stop and check the place out. It actually wasn't that tacky, although it very well might have been in 1987.

One other difference versus 1987 is that the bridge now has separate trestles for northbound and southbound traffic, so it's a four lane bridge now except for the tunnel parts. The tunnels still narrow down to one lane each direction, I imagine because building more tunnels would be expensive.

A point about naming: I'd always thought of this as the "Chesapeake Bay Bridge", but it turns out there's an unfortunate naming collision at work here. Further up the bay there's a large bridge that also goes by "Chesapeake Bay Bridge", so you can't drop the word "tunnel" without confusing people. This bridge is technically named the "Lucius J. Kellam Jr. Bridge–Tunnel" after a local civic leader, but as far as I know nobody calls it that. The acronym "CBBT" seems to get a bit of use though.

Did I mention it costs twelve dollars to cross the bridge-tunnel? Seriously. Granted that comes to about 50 cents per mile, but still. Twelve dollars.

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