Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel:

At first glance, there is nothing truly beautiful about this bridge.  But, as you learn about it, the beauty sinks in.

Stick with us here. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) connects Virginia Beach, Virginia to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  Until we crossed this bridge we never knew that the east side was part of Virginia.  This peninsula is called Delmarva for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.  We wondered why, when the Commonwealth of Virginia was founded in 1607, would you want a small part of your state to be so inaccessible.  Prior to the bridge and ferries, it was a 95 mile trip from Virginia Beach to the Eastern Shore.  Our only guess was that Virginia wanted to guard the entrance to Chesapeake Bay by having land on both sides.  With a little research, we found the answer.  The original commonwealth land grant by King James I was huge!  It extended from Pennsylvania to South Carolina.  Through the years, with many countries and group conflicts, the current state of Virginia was whittled down to its present size but kept a little portion of land on the Eastern Shore.

In the 1930's, ferries started serving this crossing.  When the bridge-tunnel was completed in 1964 it replaced as many as 90 one-way ferry trips per day.

1) The western toll booth in Virginia Beach and the Northampton County, one of two counties on the Eastern Shore.

The CBBT is 17.6 miles in length.  When the bridge was first proposed the U.S. Navy objected.  Their concern was that passage from Norfolk Navy Base to the Atlantic Ocean could be blocked if the bridge collapsed. This would be especially important if it were targeted by enemy forces, thus blocking access to a military response.  Thus the final bridge is comprised of truss-style bridges and two one-mile-long tunnels.   The tunnels  are 75 feet below the surface allowing for any size vessel to pass over.  There are also bridges on the eastern end allowing for ships under the bridge.

This aerial photo (from Google Images; we could not find the source to cite), shows the southern most of four man-made islands.  Each island is around five acres in size. The wonderful South Thimble Island has parking for cars or your motorhome, a restaurant, a fishing pier and it is the entrance to the South Tunnel. How many bridges have you been on that have a parking lot in the middle?

South Thimble Island is 6 miles from the start of the bridge. Just before dropping into the South Tunnel you head off to the right to park; lots of room and a little wind!

1) The fishing pier is a favorite with the locals, a good idea for any bridge because fish love to hang around piers and pillars.  2) A second name for the bridge is the Lucius J. Kellam, Jr. Bridge-Tunnel.  Lucius was the Chairman of the CBBT for 39 years.  He was instrumental from the genesis of the idea to its completion and then for 29 years more.

This is the entrance to the south tunnel as seen from the parking lot.

Each tunnel is one mile long.  The construction of projects like this is fascinating.  The tunnels were constructed on land in sections. A mile long ditch was dug in the bay floor.  The tunnel sections were suspended from barges, filled with water and lowered into the ditch.  After the sections were attached to each other, they were covered with earth.  Then the water was pumped out of the tunnel and construction completed.

Views of the tunnel from on top and below.

Exiting the south tunnel you have a 4 mile trek to the north tunnel.

The tunnels have a height of 13 feet 6 inches which allows semi-trucks to pass through.  It is good to know the height of your motorhome.  The MotherShip is 12 feet 8 inches which leaves only 10 inches to spare!

1) Back on the surface again, you approach the elevated bridge that allows ships to pass under on the eastern end.  Closer to the Eastern Shore is Adams Island. This natural island is a wildlife preserve with no vehicle exits.

Another bridge spans the bay between Adams Island and Northampton County on the Eastern Shore.

So what makes this bridge so beautiful.  It's not the lovely serving staff at the South Thimble Island restaurant.  So what then?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  What makes this bridge so beautiful is that "No Local, State or Federal Tax Money Used"!  This bridge was built for only $200 million dollars and with no money from the government. Bonds were sold to private individuals and the bonds were paid back with interest from the bridge tolls.  To this day the bridge is self-sustained on tolls only!

During our research we found that the Mackinac Bridge was partially funded by tolls but also received $417,000 per year from the State of Michigan.

The Golden Gate Bridge financing story is great.  The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District was incorporated in 1928 and bonds were issued. With the stock market crash of 1929 not many bonds were purchased. But in 1932 Amadeo Giannini, the founder of Bank of America, bought all the bonds with the desire of helping the local economy.  The tolls paid back the bonds and interest by 1971.  At that point the project was without government funding. But sadly they have since accepted Federal funds and regulations that they entail.

We are always impressed to learn about massive projects especially when the government is not involved.  In our eyes the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is truly beautiful.

Love, Pete, Ellen and Mandy

The Full Time Motorhome Living Guide

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