April 15, 2024
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chesapake bay bridge tunnel

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. 

The CBBT opened to traffic on April 15, 1964. The bridge at the time was considered to be one of the 7 engineering wonders of the modern world.  In 1956,  Lucius J. Kellam of Belle Haven headed an effort to build a connector to the Hampton Roads area.  Prior to that, the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, which was built and opened in 1957, undoubtedly inspired the effort to build the longer bridge tunnel. The monumental  effort to cross 17 miles of open water at the mouth of one of the largest estuaries in the world was funded not by tax dollars but a political sub-division was created that allowed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Commission to operate the facility independently and not under the State. $200,000,000 in bonds were issued and sold to finance the project.

It took over four years from the beginning of construction until the first cars were allowed to cross on April 15, 1964.  The bridge replaced the ferry service that had given Eastern Shore residents contact with the rest of the state since the early 1930s.  At that time, the ferries operated between Little Creek and Cape Charles. Ferries met passenger trains at Cape Charles and the service generated an economic boom in the town that lasted until the Virginia Ferry Commission moved the Eastern Shore terminal to Kiptopeake in 1949.  The crossing before the Kiptopeake move was 85 minutes. The move south took about 20 minutes off of that time.

The new bridge allowed Eastern Shore residents to have much better access to Norfolk and Richmond taking approximately 20 minutes each way to cross.  At the time it was hoped that the opening of the Bridge Tunnel would create an economic boom to the Eastern Shore.  While the anticipated economic benefits to Northampton County never developed, traffic on Rt. 13 did increase prompting VDOT to construct a new 4 lane highway in the late 1960s replacing the old 3 lane road that went through Cheriton, Exmore, Onley and Tasley.  The new highway by passed these towns.

The Ferry Cape Henoplen, formerly the Virginia Beach being operated by the Cross Sound Ferry Company and now carries vehicles and passengers between New London Ct. and Point Orient at the eastern tip of Long Island, New York.  The other ferries of the fleet were either sold to the Delaware Bay ferry service or elsewhere.  After serving between Lewis Delaware and New Jersey, the older vessels were decomissioned and  were scrapped.  The remains of the ferry Princess Anne is now a fishing reef off of Palm Beach Fla.

Had the new Bridge Tunnel not been built and the ferries remained crossing the bay would have taken a lot longer and cost a lot more. Six years ago, Charlie and Nancy Russell took a trip on the last remaining functioning ferry from the old Virginia fleet.  The former Chesapeake Bay ferry, named the Virginia Beach which operated for about five years in Virginia, was sold to the Delaware Bay Ferry Commission, which renamed the boat the Cape Henlopen, after the Bridge Tunnel opened. The Virginia Beach was a converted LST that participated in the invasion of Normandy in 1944 and was converted to serve  as a roll on roll off car ferry in 1959.

The one way toll to cross Long Island Sound for a car, driver and one passenger was $79. When the ferries stopped operating  at Kiptopeake, the one way toll for car and driver was $4.85.

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May 28, 2024, 12:25 pm
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