For over 50 years, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel has captured worldwide attention as a modern engineering wonder and an important East Coast travel convenience. Crossing over and under open waters where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Bridge-Tunnel provides a direct link between Southeastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware plus the Eastern Shore counties in Maryland and Virginia), and cuts 95 miles from the journey between Virginia Beach and points north of Wilmington, Delaware.
Following its opening on April 15, 1964, the Bridge-Tunnel was selected “One of
the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World” in a worldwide
competition that included more than one hundred major projects. In addition, in 1965, it was distinguished as “The Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement” by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
To date, over 116 million commercial and passenger vehicles have crossed the Bridge-Tunnel. In order to meet future traffic demands and provide for a safer crossing, construction of a parallel crossing project began in summer 1995, and opened to four-lane traffic on April 19, 1999. No less challenging than construction of the original span, this project once again drew focus to a remarkable achievement in engineering and construction.
FROM FERRIES TO FIXED CROSSING
From the early 1930’s to 1954, a private corporation managed scheduled ferry service between Virginia’s Eastern Shore and the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. With the number of ships (including the number of passengers and vehicles they transported) increasing steadily, the Virginia General Assembly stepped in to create the Chesapeake Bay Ferry District and the Chesapeake Bay Ferry Commission as the governing body of the District; subsequently the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District and Commission. The Commission was authorized to acquire the private ferry corporation through bond financing, improve existing ferry service and implement a new service between Virginia’s Eastern Shore and the Hampton/Newport News area.
In 1956, the General Assembly authorized the Ferry Commission to explore the construction of a fixed crossing. Results of the study indicated a crossing was feasible and recommended a series of bridges and tunnels. In the summer of 1960, the Chesapeake Bay Ferry Commission sold $200 million in revenue bonds to private investors. Monies collected by future tolls were pledged to pay the principal and interest on these bonds. Construction contracts were awarded to Tidewater Construction Corporation; Merritt Chapman, Scott; Raymond International; Peter Kiewitt & Sons, Inc. and American Bridge Co. No local, state or federal tax money was used in the construction of the project. In April 1964 – just 42 months after construction began – the Bridge-Tunnel opened to traffic and ferry service was discontinued.
From shore to shore, the Bridge-Tunnel measures 17.6 miles (28.4 km) and is considered the world’s largest bridge-tunnel complex. Construction of the span required undertaking a project of more than 12 miles of low-level trestle, two 1-mile tunnels, two bridges, almost 2 miles of causeway, four manmade islands and 5-1/2 miles of approach roads, totaling 23 miles.
Although individual components are not the longest or largest ever built, the Bridge-Tunnel is unique in the number of different types of structures it includes. In addition, construction was accomplished under the severe conditions imposed by hurricanes, northeasters, and the unpredictable Atlantic Ocean.
The Bridge-Tunnel was officially named the Lucius J. Kellam, Jr. Bridge-Tunnel in August 1987, in honor of the man who spearheaded the project as it moved from a vision to a reality. Kellam served as a member of the Commission from 1954 until his death in 1995. In order to preserve the structure’s identity and name recognition, however, it continues to be known as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
CONSTRUCTION OF PARALLEL PROJECT
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Commission began investigating the possibility of building a parallel crossing in 1987. By 1989, in-house studies and projections and a comprehensive study conducted in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Transportation concluded that parallel bridges, trestles, and roadways would be needed by the year 2000 to meet future traffic demands and provide a safer crossing for travelers.
The Virginia General Assembly in 1990 thereby empowered the Bridge-Tunnel Commission with the authority to proceed with the Parallel Crossing Project.
Beginning in 1991, revenue bonds were sold to finance engineering, environmental and traffic studies. Sverdrup Civil, Inc., Consulting Engineers to the District, was selected to design, prepare specifications and contract documents, and be Construction Manager for the project.
On May 4, 1995, the Commission awarded a construction contract in the amount of $197,185,177 to a joint venture of PCL Civil Constructors, Inc. of Denver, CO, The Hardaway Company of Columbus, GA and Interbeton, Inc. of Rockland, MA, to build a second span parallel and adjacent to the original Bridge-Tunnel. The project, which expanded the two-lane facility into four lanes, included expansion of toll plazas, trestles, bridges and roadways, and maintenance and repair on the original span. The project did not include the expansion of the four manmade islands or additional tunnels. Tunnels will be constructed at a later date.
The project, financed by monies from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District and through the sale of additional revenue bonds, was completed in April, 1999. No local, state or federal tax monies were utilized for the construction costs.
CONSTRUCTION OF PARALLEL TUNNEL
On May 21, 2013, the Commission approved a resolution for the acceleration of the construction of the Parallel Thimble Shoal Tunnel Project, with the recommendation that construction of the Project begin as early as financially practicable and utilize a Design-Build contracting model to maximize cost savings and to shorten the final delivery timeline.
For more information on the Parallel Thimble Shoal Tunnel Project, please click here.
For a chronological history of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel,
please click here. (Adobe Acrobat Reader Required)
For a synopsis of enabling legislation that governs the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, please click here.
On April 15, 2014, a celebration of 50 years was held on the southernmost island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. To access articles highlighting the facility history and the anniversary, please click here.