Let Me Take You Down To The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel
My first time I ever road on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel I was in my early 50s. I made the trip by myself. To say the least it was like an outer body experience. I was going over with a buyer to view property. I kept my cool so my buyer never knew I was white knuckle to whole time over and back.
What might be a scary trip for some is thrilling for others when it comes to crossing nearly 20 miles of this bridge and tunnel system.
If you’ve never had to cross the Chesapeake Bay from the Delmarva Peninsula to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, then you probably wouldn’t know about the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel. In this quiet, unsuspecting southern location, there’s a bridge that spans from one piece of land to the other, covering a distance of nearly 20 miles. When one thinks of a bridge system, they typically think of a series of bridges that connects various pieces of land within a bay – rather than a bridge that spans across an entire bay, with no land in between, for miles and miles on end.
The Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel is a modern feat of engineering but it’s also considered to be one of the scariest roads – or bridges, technically – in the country. For those who have a fear of heights, open spaces, or open water, it’s not destined to be the more thrilling of experiences. However, depending on your take about having the chance to drive across what was once considered one of seven global engineering wonders, it can also be a truly humbling experience.
Crossing The Bay In An Extreme Way
When travelers come up to this extensive water crossing, it’s more akin to looking at a giant concrete serpent that’s snaking through the water, all the way to a sight unseen. It boasts a different kind of awe than bridges carved out by nature, but even so, it’s easy to imagine the bridge itself coming alive to take on some form of a sea monster that resembles Loch Ness, with each rise and fall of the bridge being a hump on the monster’s back. In reality, it’s a mix of concrete, cement, asphalt, and steel that make up this immoveable giant, and it truly is a masterpiece.
The bridge itself is not very wide and allows only enough room for two passing lanes of cars, with two, two-lane bridges running parallel to each other, side by side, for almost 20 miles. It’s the kind of bridge that you don’t want to get caught on during windy weather or a rainstorm and especially not in traffic (which does happen). As opposed to a suspension bridge, the Bay-Bridge Tunnel doesn’t have the height of other bridges, making drivers feel as though they’re driving just over the surface of the water with not much distance between their cars and the lapping waves below… and this is all before reaching the first tunnel.
On a clear, sunny day, the drive across the bridge is absolutely stunning. However, there are also two tunnels that make up parts of this bridge, each just over a mile long in length. These tunnels were built to allow cargo ships to cross, as shipment in and out of this bay is too frequent to permit only a bridge. Therefore, it’s not an uncommon sight to watch a cargo ship pass by over the tunnel drivers are about to descend into and, when you come up on the other side it’s not unusual to see the cargo ship on the other side of the tunnel in your rearview mirror.
The best way to describe it is tripping and slightly unnerving, but altogether amazing nonetheless. The tunnels themselves are simple, tiled walls, with slightly curved sides that make drivers feel as though they’re speeding through a subway station. It’s always important to stay alert both in tunnels and on the bridge.
No Pulling Off
The second thing that many drivers realize is that there’s nowhere to pull off to the side of the bridge. Along the way, there are some wider shoulders that allow for two, maybe three cars, to pull to the side in the event of an emergency, but that’s it. Therefore, once a person has committed, they’re pretty much in it for the full 20-minute drive across open water. Fear not, though – an artificial island created in the center of the Bridge-Tunnel not only allows drivers to take a break but is also home to a small restaurant and gift shop. However, travelers won’t have the chance to explore this unique stop-off point until 2024 as another tunnel section at the Thimble Shoal Channel is currently being constructed.
For over 57 years since its completion in 1964, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel has garnered global attention as a mind-boggling engineering wonder and an incredible East Coast travel convenience. In fact, it commanded so much marvel and awe that it was selected during a worldwide competition as one of “The Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World” after its grand opening on April 15, 1964.
The competition also included over a hundred other major global projects, which just goes to show how unbeatable the bridge was as a sample of extreme technological, mechanical, and architectural amazement that impressed the entire planet at the time. Further to this esteemed award, it was branded a “The Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement” by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1965 – just a year after it took the world by storm.
In its heyday, it was also the largest consecutive bay-bridge crossing in the world, and while it’s now one of, its incredible construction is no less impressive or humbling. With an extensive working of tressels, roadways, and four artificial islands that were sunk 40 feet below the surface to create the gradual descending of each tunnel, the CBBT might be scary for some, but it’s a true marvel for most of the world’s population.
Furthermore, it’s not just for its modern architectural and technological wonder for which it’s been celebrated with such esteemed awards; the bridge-tunnel also offers the utmost convenience and is an exceptional travel hack for those on the East Coast. Crossing over and under open waters where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, it offers a direct and easy link between South-eastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula (comprising Delaware and the Eastern Shore counties in Maryland and Virginia). Overall, the connection chops off a whopping 95 miles from the route between Virginia Beach and areas north of Wilmington, which all in all makes a massive difference to everyone’s gas consumption as well as their driving time.
Also, to meet future traffic demands and offer a safer crossing, a parallel crossing project commenced in the summer of 1995, opening four lanes on the bridge for traffic upon its completion on April 19, 1999. This extra construction project was just as challenging as building the bridge-tunnel itself, and once again earned the world’s attention for being a tremendous example of a modern engineering achievement.
What’s more, over 150 million commercial and passenger vehicles have crossed the insta-worthy bridge-tunnel so far in the current day, proving it to be an indispensable path that has changed the commutes of many in the region.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel is a 17.6-mile bridge–tunnel that crosses the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay between Delmarva and Hampton Roads in the U.S. state of Virginia. It opened in 1964, replacing ferries that had operated since the 1930s. Wikipedia
Total length: 92,848′
Construction started: October 26, 1960
Opened: April 15, 1964
Clearance below: 40′
Bridge type: Bridge–tunnel
Architecture firm: Sverdrup & Parcel
Location: Virginia Beach, Cape Charles
Cars $14 (Each direction & off-peak. $18 Peak. Round trip discount available.) E-ZPass