Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
- This article is for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia. For the bridge in Maryland, please see the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The bridge-tunnel complex carries U.S. Highway 13, the main north-south highway on Virginia's Eastern Shore, and provides the only direct link between Virginia's Eastern Shore and South Hampton Roads regions.
Financed by toll revenue bonds, it was opened on April 15, 1964. The bridge-tunnel was officially named the Lucius J. Kellam Jr. Bridge-Tunnel in August, 1987 after one of the civic leaders who had long worked for its development and operation. However, it continues to be best-known as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
Despite operating a fleet of large and modern ships, the service offered by the ferry system was considered inadequate by many users. The trips took a long time, and there were often delays due to heavy traffic and inclement weather.
In 1954, the Virginia General Assembly (state legislature) created the Chesapeake Bay Ferry District and the Chesapeake Bay Ferry Commission as the governing body of the District. The Commission was authorized to acquire the private ferry corporation through bond financing, to improve the existing ferry service.
Studying and building a fixed crossing
In 1956, the General Assembly authorized the Ferry Commission to conduct feasibility studies for the construction of a fixed crossing. The conclusion of the study indicated that a vehicular crossing was feasible and recommended a series of bridges and tunnels. The Bridge-Tunnel was designed by the engineering firm Sverdrup & Parcel, of St. Louis, Missouri, and this firm was also the construction manager for the construction project.
In the summer of 1960, the Chesapeake Bay Ferry Commission sold $200 million in toll revenue bonds to private investors, and the proceeds were used to finance the construction of the Bridge-Tunnel. Funds collected by future tolls were pledged to pay the principal and interest on the bonds. No local, state or federal tax funds were used in the construction of the project.
Construction contracts were awarded to a consortium of Tidewater Construction Corporation and Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation. The steel superstructure for the high-level bridges near the north end of the crossing were fabricated by the American Bridge Division of United States Steel Company. Construction of the Bridge-Tunnel began in October 1960 after six months were spent assembling the needed equipment from all around the world.
The construction was accomplished under the severe conditions imposed by northeasters, hurricanes, and the unpredictable Atlantic Ocean. In April 1964, 42 months after construction began, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel opened to traffic, and the ferry service was discontinued.
Additional trestles and lanes added
At a cost of $197 million, new parallel 2-lane trestles were built and they were opened on April 19, 1999 to alleviate traffic and for safety reasons. This increased the capacity the above-water portion of the facility to four lanes, facilitated needed repairs, and helped insure against a total closure should a trestle be struck by a ship or otherwise damaged (which had occurred twice in the past).
While there has been planning work done to expand tunnel capacities as well, the facility currently continues to utilize only the original two-lane tunnels.
CBBT and Lucius J. Kellam Jr
The ferry commission and transportation district it oversees which were created in 1954 were later renamed for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The CBBT district is a public agency and it is a legal subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, the Bridge-Tunnel is supported financially by the tolls collected from the motorists who use the facility.
Eastern Shore native, businessman and civic leader Lucius J. Kellam Jr. was its first chairman. In a commentary at the time of his death in 1995, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper (Virginia Beach) recalled that Kellam had been involved in bringing the multi million-dollar bridge-tunnel project from dream to reality. Beginning with the original ferry commission in 1954, he was the commission's first chairman.
Before it was built, Kellam handled a political fight over the location, and addressed concerns of the U.S. Navy about prospective hazards to navigation to and from the Norfolk Navy Base at Sewell's Point.
Kellam was also directly involved in the negotiations to finance the ambitious crossing with bonds. According to the newspaper article, "there were not-unfounded fears that (1) storm-driven seas and drifting or off-course vessels could damage, if not destroy, the span and (2) traffic might not be sufficient to service the entire debt in an orderly way. Sure enough, bridge portions of the crossing have occasionally been damaged by vessels, and there was a long period when holders of the riskiest bonds received no interest on their investment."
An icon of Eastern Virginia politics, Kellam remained chairman and champion of the CBBT throughout the hard times, and the bondholders were eventually paid as toll revenues caught up with expenses. He continued to serve until he was over 80 years old, finally retiring in 1993. He had held the post 39 years.
Over 20 years after it was first opened to traffic, in 1987 the facility was named in his honor.
One of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World
Following the CBBT's opening in 1964, it was selected by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as "One of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World" in a worldwide competition that included more than one hundred major projects.
The individual components of the Bridge-Tunnel are not the longest or the largest ever built. However, total project was unique in the number of different types of major structures included in one crossing and the fact that it was built under adverse conditions.
Facts and figures
The CBBT is 17.6 miles long from shore to shore, crossing what is essentially an ocean strait. (Including land approach highways, the overall facility is 23 miles long).
Key features are two 1-mile tunnels beneath Thimble Shoals and Chesapeake navigation channels and two high level bridges over two other navigation channels: North Channel Bridge and Fisherman Inlet Bridge. The remaining portion is comprised of 12 miles of low-level trestle, 2 miles of causeway, and four man-made islands.
Man-made islands, each approximately 5.25 acres (21,000 m²) in size, are located at each end of the two tunnels. Between North Channel and Fisherman Inlet, the facility crosses at-grade over Fisherman Island, a barrier island which includes the Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge administered by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Toll collection facilities are located at each end of the facility.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel saves motorists 95 miles and 1 1/2 hours between Virginia Beach/Norfolk and New York. A restaurant, gift shop and fishing pier are located on the southernmost of the four man-made islands.
Since it opened, more than 67 million vehicles have crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
- Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel official website
- Roads to the Future website
- information from Norfolk Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Virginian-Pilot newspaper commentary on long-time CBBT Chairman Lucius J. Kellam Jr. at the time of his death in 1995
- Fisherman's Island National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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