|Before the construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge first opened to traffic in 1952, motorists either had to drive 2 hours around the northern end of Chesapeake Bay or take a ferry that traversed the same route as today's the five minute drive over the bridge. With the construction of the bridge, the popularity of beach resort towns on the Atlantic Coast of Delaware and Maryland grew rapidly. The heavy traffic quickly filled the 2 lane bridge to capacity. In 1973 a parallel structure was built with three additional lanes. Traffic can be routed across any combination of lanes and there is often four lanes traveling in the direction of the prevailing rush - to the beaches on Fridays and from the beaches on Sunday.
The main span on the western side of the bridge has a 1500 foot span and a vertical navigation clearance of 186 feet. this allows tall freighters and naval vessels to come to the port of Baltimore, located just 10 miles to the north of the bridge.
Each year the east bound older span of the bridge is closed and the public is invited to walk the bridge from end to end. east bound traffic is routed to the three lane newer span. The middle lane is left open for emergency vehicles. Tens of thousands of people make the two hour walk across the bridge each year.
The whole set up was very efficient and the $1.00 round trip "donation" was a real bargain. The 2004 bridge walk cost $400,000.00 security and overtime salaries. This is the only way to get to the bridge as there are no parking facilities available at the bridge. It is one of the few times in America when public transportation is actually faster and less hassle than private vehicle. There were two other parking lots, one at Anne Arundel college, and the other on Kent Island at the other end of the bridge. But the Naval Academy parking lot is always the most popular. By 10:00 A.M. parking there would be a struggle because the lot is full. Annapolis is notorious for difficult parking.
For five years, since 2001, I have been trying to walk the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Twice it was cancelled because of terrorism, twice because of bad weather, and once I was out of the state. But finally in 2006 I was able to go. It was a beautiful crisp sunny Sunday morning. My wife and I arrived in Annapolis via Rowe Boulevard and were immediately in a traffic jam exiting US 50. Even though it was only 8:15 A.M. crowds were already pressing the Naval Academy Stadium parking lots where tens of empty buses (180 clean engine buses overall were used) awaited walkers to take them over to the eastern end of the bridge. From there everyone would walk the 4.3 miles back to the other end where buses would take us back.
We had come early so that we could walk down to the Maryland Maritime Festival, a celebration that a scheduled for the same weekend as the Bridge Walk and part of a week long party when the Volvo Ocean Race fleet is in the area. Today the fleet was starting the next leg of the around the world race. At 11:00 A.M. the boats would be leaving the docks and starting the race to New York City. There were several tall ships, some refurbished traditional bay boats and some old wooden boats docked along the city pier. Even the presidential yacht was there. The pier to the Volvo 70 boats was closed so we were not able to get close to the high tech sailing machines.
We walked back up main street and then a side street to State Circle where the oldest still in use capitol building still houses the Maryland Legislature. The capitol dome stood out against the dark green foliage and bright blue sky.
We walked back to the Naval Academy Stadium, paid our $1.00 fee for two wooden bus tokens and walked immediately onto a waiting bus. As soon as all the passengers were aboard, the bus pulled out for the short drive to the bridge. We crossed over the bay on the three lane newer span. Usually this span carries the westbound traffic, but today one lane carried west bound traffic, one lane east bound and the center lane was open for emergency vehicles. At the Kent Island end of the bridge we disembarked the buses and ran the gauntlet of politicians hawking for November's elections. Further along there Porta Potties were set up and there was a small food vendor area. There are also Porta potties and water stations out on the bridge. No backpacks are allowed on the bridge so it is great that water is provided along the way. We bought some hot dogs from a Boy Scout fund raising stand and signed the banner headed over to the troops in Iraq.
We crossed under the banner and started out onto the bridge deck. The crowds were significant but the bridge was not packed. Everyone moved along at a moderate pace. There are no bikes, skates or skateboards allowed so the walk was very pleasant and relaxed. The bridge can be windy but today a gentle 8 knot wind was blowing from the north. Thousands of spectator boats had come out to see the start of the New York leg of the Volvo Ocean race at 1:00 P. M. They were all milling about and positioning themselves for around the exclusion zone set up for the race. Many police boats were out trying to maintain the integrity of the zone.
The bridge rises gently to a height of almost 200 feet over the water. The slope is very moderate so the walking is easy. At the spans, the supporting structure of the bridge moves from below the deck to a superstructure that supports the deck over the 1500 foot span of the main channel. Two large pylons and large steel cables support the two lane deck. The stark steel girders and rivets make an interesting contrast with the soft water. From the highest portion of the span we could see the Volvo racers as they turned the mark, set their asymmetric spinnakers and headed back down the Bay to New York.
More about the bridge........
After the main span the bridge curves down to the shore at Sandy point. There we received a certificate commemorating our accomplishment. Buses were waiting and we walked right on. As soon as it was full, about three minutes, off we went back to the stadium parking lot. it was a great day. We had walked about 7 miles for the day. We had walked across the Chesapeake Bay on a beautiful day in May.
"When the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at Sandy Point was opened to traffic on July 30, 1952, it not only marked the physical connection of the Eastern and Western Shores of Maryland, but also marked the successful completion of a forty-five year struggle to accomplish this purpose. Prior to this time, travelers between shores were compelled to use ferries or to journey around the head of the Bay.
Prior to the construction of the present bridge, and with the development of the motor vehicle, even the long trip around the northern head of the Bay shortened the old uncomfortable but slow daily trips of the river boats between the Eastern and Western Shores, separated as they are for 130 miles by the Chesapeake Bay.
According to the early history of the State, a ferry plied the Bay between Kent Island and points at or near Annapolis, and recurring stories indicate that sketchy preliminary studies were made during the latter part of the 19th century to span the Bay by bridge. The records show that in 1907, coincident with the development of interurban trolley lines, there was a proposal by private capital interests to bridge the Bay, and although the proposal was endorsed by the Merchants and Manufacturers Association of Baltimore, the project did not advance beyond a very preliminary stage. In 1918, private capital interests again considered the possibility of a double deck structure to carry both railroad and trolley lines across the bay. Again in 1919, before revenue bond financing acquired its impetus after the depression of 1929, private capital interests undertook preliminary studies to bridge the bay between Miller Island and Tolchester.
During the forty years prior to construction of the present bridge, while the river boats gave way to motor vehicles, it may be said that Bay ferries were used as temporary expedients until the hope of the years for a fixed bay crossing could be realized.
Private interests operated the Bay ferries, one between Baltimore and Tolchester, another between Baltimore and Love Point and another between Annapolis and Matapeake and Claiborne. The latter was operated successively by Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry, Incorporated, and the Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry Company. The assets of the latter were taken over by the State Roads Commission of Maryland under an Act of Legislature of 1941 and the Annapolis-Matapeake Ferry, later the Sandy Point-Matapeake Ferry, was operated by the State until the time that the present bridge was opened to traffic.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Company, chartered by Maryland in 1926, received legislative authority in 1931 to construct the Miller Island-Tolchester Bridge, and the Legislature in 1935 provided that the authority of the company would be null and void unless the Company should commence construction of the bridge within two years and complete its construction within five years from June 1, 1935. The company abandoned its efforts and its charter was annulled in 1938. Governor Ritchie meanwhile in 1931 had appointed a commission to study the problem of spanning the Bay through the revenue bond financing method.
By 1935, the public demand for a Bay crossing became so great that the Legislature in 1935 created the Chesapeake Bay Authority, as a public body, with power to construct the Miller Island-Tolchester Bridge under the revenue bond financing method and with further powers to acquire the assets and franchises of the Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry Company. The Chesapeake Bay Authority, however, was abolished by the Legislature in 1941.
The Legislature of Maryland in 1937, during the administration of Governor Nice, authorized a comprehensive State plan for the construction of bridges or tunnels and gave authority to the State Roads Commission to issue revenue bonds of the State, payable solely from earnings to pay the cost of construction. Under the authority of the 1937 Act, the State Roads Commission initiated studies for four principal crossings by bridge or tunnel. These studies were covered by the report entitled "Maryland's Primary Bridge Program" prepared for the Commission by J.E. Greiner Company in 1938. Included in these studies was a bridge over the Chesapeake Bay at the Miller Island-Tolchester site, or as an alternative, at the Sandy Point-Kent Island site. The Act of Congress, approved April 7, 1938, authorized any two or more of the four crossings to be jointly financed by a single issue of revenue bonds to be serviced by the pooling of tolls, construction to be commenced within three years and to be completed within five years from April 7, 1938. Two of those structures, the Susquehanna River Bridge and the Potomac River Bridge, treated as a single project for financing purposes, were commenced in 1938 during the administration of Governor Nice and were completed in 1940 during the administration of Governor O'Conor.
The State Roads Commission in 1938 had determined to construct the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at the Sandy Point-Kent Island site, as well as the Susquehanna and Potomac River Bridges; and the Trust Indenture of October 1, 1938, between the State Roads Commission and the Safe Deposit & Trust Company of Baltimore, as Trustee, in providing for the issuance of revenue bonds for the Susquehanna and Potomac River Bridges, contained a provision for the issuance at any time prior to July 1, 1942 of additional bonds for the cost of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, including the cost of acquiring the ferry. World War II, of course, prevented the construction of the Bay Bridge as then contemplated.
During the administration of Governor Lane, the Legislature, at its General Session of 1947, passed a comprehensive Act, amended at the Extraordinary Session of 1947, providing an additional or alternative method for the construction and financing of bridges, tunnels and motorways under the revenue bond financing method. This Act authorized the State Roads Commission, upon determining to construct a Chesapeake Bay crossing from Sandy Point to Kent Island, to finance the same by the issuance of revenue bonds and to refund outstanding bonds on existing bridges whose tolls would be pooled with those from the Chesapeake Bay crossing. Construction plans, specifications and contract documents were started in July 1948, with the result that the actual construction of the approach roads commenced the following January. By the middle of November of 1949, the entire substructure and superstructure work was under construction.
Following the opening of the bridge in 1952, annual traffic volumes nearly doubled in the first decade. Traffic volumes during off-peak or normal periods are within the present capacity of the present facility. Lately, however, weekend traffic during the summer months has been practically twice the daily average for the month and greatly exceeds the capacity of the facility. As traffic volumes have grown, the frequency and duration of the delays have increased. Certain measures of a temporary nature, such as short time one-way operation of the structure, have reduced delays during the peak periods of traffic. However, the limited capacity inherent in the present crossing will impose repetitive and prolonged delays to patrons and result in reduced standards of service and declining rates of growth.
With the increase in the use of the Eastern Shore resorts, the increase in the number of automobiles, the increase in population and the demand of the traveling public, it is apparent that existing facilities for connecting the Eastern and Western Shores are inadequate and additional facilities will be required in the near future."
Location Studies - Chesapeake Bay Crossings, for State Roads Commission of Maryland, by consulting engineers J.E. Greiner Company and Coverdale & Colpitts, January, 1964.