|Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel|
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel crosses the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and connects the City of Virginia Beach to Cape Charles in Northampton County on the Virginia Eastern Shore.
Article index with internal links:
Bay Ferry Becomes Fixed Crossing
An Engineering Wonder
Driving the Bridge-Tunnel
Parallel Trestle Project
Parallel Tunnel Project
Links to My Photo Pages
Links to External Websites
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel crosses the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and connects the City of Virginia Beach to Cape Charles in Northampton County on the Virginia Eastern Shore. It 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, and it carries highway traffic on US-13 which is a major arterial highway serving the corridor between Norfolk, Virginia and Wilmington, Delaware. The original 2-lane bridge-tunnel facility was opened in April 1964, took 3˝ years to build, and it cost $200 million for planning, design, right-of-way, and construction. New parallel 2-lane trestles have been built and they were completed in April 1999, at a cost of $197 million. The Bridge-Tunnel is supported financially by the tolls collected from the motorists who use the facility.
The original Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel 2-lane crossing consists of 12.5 miles of low level concrete bridge trestles, two tunnels each about one mile long, two high-level steel bridges, four man-made portal islands each 1,500 feet long, 1.5 miles of earthfill causeway across Fisherman Island, and about 5.5 miles of land approach highway. The roadway on the bridge portions is 28 feet wide.
Two major shipping channels are crossed by the Bridge-Tunnel. The 5,738-foot-long Thimble Shoal Channel Tunnel crossed the southerly channel (for Hampton Roads ship traffic), and provided a 1,900-foot-wide ship channel with a 50-foot minimum depth, and a 2,500-foot-wide channel with a 40-foot minimum depth. The 5,450-foot-long Chesapeake Channel Tunnel crossed the northerly channel (for Baltimore ship traffic), and provided a 1,700-foot-wide channel with 50-foot depth, and a 2,300-foot-wide channel with a minimum 40-foot depth. The maximum roadway grade in the tunnels is 4 percent. The tunnel roadway width is 24 feet plus a 2'-6" sidewalk on one side, and the overhead clearance above the roadway is 13'-6". The tunnel lengths stated are from portal to portal, and the water depths stated are below the average low tide level.
The North Channel Bridge, just south of Fisherman Island, has 75 feet of vertical navigational clearance and 300 feet of horizontal navigational clearance. The Fisherman Inlet Bridge has 40 feet of vertical navigational clearance and 110 feet of horizontal navigational clearance. Water depth along the route ranges from 25 to 75 feet deep.
Bay Ferry Becomes Fixed Crossing
From the early 1930's to 1954, a private corporation managed scheduled vehicular (car, bus, truck) and passenger ferry service between the Virginia Eastern Shore and the Norfolk and Virginia Beach area. 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; later named the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District (CBBTD), and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Commission. The CBBTD is a public agency and it is a legal subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commission was authorized to acquire the private ferry corporation through bond financing, to improve the existing ferry service, and to implement a new service between the Virginia Eastern Shore and the Peninsula cities of Hampton and Newport News. 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 for CBBTD by the engineering firm Sverdrup & Parcel, of St. Louis, Missouri, and this firm was also the construction manager for the 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 these bonds. Construction contracts were awarded to a consortium of Tidewater Construction Corporation, of Norfolk, Virginia (now Tidewater Skanska, Inc.); Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation, of New York; Raymond International, Inc., of New York, Peter Kiewit & Sons, Inc., of Omaha, Nebraska; and 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, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, now known as American Bridge Co.
Construction of the Bridge-Tunnel began in October 1960. No local, state or federal tax funds were used in the construction of the project. In April 1964, 42 months after construction began, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel opened to traffic, and the ferry service was discontinued.
The individual components of the Bridge-Tunnel are not the longest or the largest ever built; however, the total project is unique in the number of different types of major structures included in one crossing and the fact that construction was accomplished under the severe conditions imposed by northeasters, hurricanes, and the unpredictable Atlantic Ocean.
The once-proposed ferry service from the Eastern Shore to Hampton, was never implemented. The initial feasibility studies for the Bridge-Tunnel also proposed a future bridge branching from the center portion of the Bridge-Tunnel to the city of Hampton, and this was never built. It appears that the ultimate dualization of the entire existing Bridge-Tunnel has obviated the desire to build the Hampton spur.
An Engineering Wonder
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was selected by the American Society of Civil Engineers as "One of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World" in a worldwide competition that included more than one hundred major projects, following the Bridge-Tunnel's opening on April 15, 1964. The ASCE choice was based on the unusual engineering features of the seven projects, the utility to mankind, and the size. In addition, in 1965, the Bridge-Tunnel was distinguished with the ASCE award of "The Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement" for that year.
The following article has details about technical aspects of the Bridge-Tunnel project, and details about the construction methods utilized: "The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel", from The History and Heritage of Civil Engineering in Virginia, by J.C. Hanes and J.M. Morgan, Jr., 1973, Virginia Section of American Society of Civil Engineers. I would encourage you to read it if you want to know those details. In summary, the tunnel structure consists of prefabricated composite structural steel and reinforced concrete tube sections 37 feet in diameter and 300 feet long, sunk into place in a prepared trench in the seabed and covered with a minimum of 10 feet of selective backfill material, and connected together and finished inside. The portals of the tunnels are anchored on man-made islands constructed in 35 to 45 feet of water, and these islands provide a transition from the trestle roadway to the tunnel tubes. Each of the four islands is approximately 1,500 feet long and 230 feet wide at the channel end, providing about 5.5 acres of real estate at a cost of about 5 million in 1964 dollars. The general surface of the islands is 30 feet above the average high tide water level. Heavy riprap armor stones of 10 to 25 tons each, protect each island from sea action. A tunnel ventilation building, shaft and garage for an emergency crash truck are located on each island. The 3,800-foot-long North Channel Bridge provides a navigation opening of 300 feet of horizontal clearance and 75 feet of vertical clearance above the average high tide water level, to accommodate the local fishing fleets, and the roadway approach grades are 3 percent. The 460-foot-long Fisherman Inlet Bridge passes over one of the U.S. Inland Waterway dredged channels, and the center span of 175 feet provides an opening of 110 feet of horizontal clearance and 40 feet of vertical clearance above the average high tide water level, and the roadway approach grades are 3 percent. The roadway across Fisherman Island is carried on an earth-fill embankment 15 feet above the average high tide water level, and the side slopes of the embankment are protected from wave action and erosion by a blanket of stone riprap. The entire trestle/bridge structure is equipped with roadway lights from shore to shore, with illumination provided by high intensity lamps mounted on reinforced concrete standards, and they are spaced at 225 feet centers on alternate sides of the roadway.
Large sign poster at Visitor's Center on south island, August 1997 photo. Shows factual data about Bridge-Tunnel. If you drive the Bridge-Tunnel, be sure and stop at the island and visitor's center. The restaurant has excellent seafood fare.
Driving the Bridge-Tunnel
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) carries the US-13 designation, and it saves 95 miles and 1˝ hours for traffic between Norfolk/Virginia Beach and Wilmington, Delaware and points north. US-13 on the Delmarva Peninsula was completely four-laned with town bypasses by 1970. The Bridge-Tunnel is not only a traffic convenience, but is also a major tourist attraction in and of itself. The southernmost man-made island is 4 miles from the Virginia Beach shoreline, and it has parking facilities, a restaurant and gift shop, and a long pier for fishing. Large ships are often visible, either passing through nearby Thimble Shoal Channel, or anchored waiting for a pilot to take them into port. Judging from the amount of fishermen on the pier, the fishing is excellent. Many small boats can be seen anchored in the vicinity for fishing.
Unless the atmosphere has very little haze, the traveler loses sight of land for several miles in the center of the complex during daytime. Nighttime is an unusual experience, with boat and ship lights in the distance, and many blinking buoy lights visible in the distance also. A long row of lights can be seen heading out into the ocean. The Bridge-Tunnel has continuous illumination through overhead lighting.
When driving the Bridge-Tunnel, the motorist and passengers have a view of, essentially, the open sea. The roadway curves several times, so long sections of the complex can be seen in the distance. One overriding feeling, when driving, is the extreme length. It seems to go on and on and on. If you are lucky, you will see a warship passing through the channel. There is a great contrast between Virginia Beach and Northampton County. Within a half hour, the traveler passes from a large metropolitan area to a very rural area. Northampton County has large farms and a collection of small towns, and much of its Atlantic coastline is tidal marshes. The width of the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, plus the high toll, has seemingly kept the Virginia Eastern Shore in a different world.
The toll is $12 one-way for cars (Class 1 includes two-axle, four-tire vehicles including passenger car, pick-up truck, panel truck, station wagon, motorcycle, and minibus/van with 15 or less seating capacity), and $35 for large trucks (five axles). Class 1 vehicles have a discount provision, $5 for a return trip within 24 hours, effectively making such a round trip $8.50 each way. The CBBT toll is high, but it is a function of the high construction cost versus the relatively low traffic volumes. Traffic has risen in recent years, leading to the parallel bridge project, but for the first 20 years, volumes were low, and there were years when some of the revenue bond issues used to finance the facility were in default, with insufficient revenues to pay the installments. Since then, traffic increases have made the facility profitable. The average traffic volume on the Bridge-Tunnel is about 9,700 vehicles per day with 10% large trucks, and can approach 20,000 on busy summer days.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel -- Toll Schedule
After the opening of the Parallel Trestle and after several years of public debate and official studies about lowering the tolls and/or providing a lowered commuter rate, on December 11, 2001, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Commission approved the implementation of a 24-hour round trip Class 1 toll rate of $14. Customers crossing the facility would pay an initial toll of $10; however, if they made a return trip within twenty-four hours of the original crossing, proven by receipt, they would pay a return toll of $4. This toll rate applied to Class 1 vehicles only and became effective on March 1, 2002. Various public and private interests supported lowering the toll, since the function of overall debt load of the toll revenue bonds versus increased traffic volumes, indicated that a lower toll would be feasible. Some groups on the Eastern Shore of Virginia opposed any toll decrease, saying that the largely rural character of the area would see increased development of homes for commuters and vacationers. On June 1, 2004, the Class 1 toll rate increased to $12 one way and the 24-hour return toll increased to $5, for a round trip toll of $17.
The Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission has on-line the official Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel Commuter Toll Impact Study, published in October 2001, and it was the official study that led to the implementation of the commuter toll rate.
The toll revenue bonds used to finance the original Bridge-Tunnel were finally paid off and retired in the late 1990s. The toll revenue bonds used to finance the Parallel Trestle project will probably take to at least 2020 to pay off and retire. The 2004 toll rate increase is intended to help accrue funding for the Parallel Tunnel Project.
Bridge-Tunnel Commission Approves Toll Revision Effective June 1, 2004, by
CBBTD. Quote (in blue text):
See the Parallel Tunnel Project section of this website article, for a May 11, 2004 Virginian-Pilot newspaper article "One-way toll on Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Increase to $12", which discusses the 2004 toll rate increase.
CBBT Class 1 tolls, by Date Implemented
|1964||$4.00 per car plus 85 cents per passenger over the age of 6|
|1971||$5.25, passenger tolls eliminated|
|March 1, 2002||$10.00, and $4 for a return trip within 24 hours|
|June 1, 2004||$12.00, and $5 for a return trip within 24 hours|
Source for toll implementation dates 1964-1991, History - Tunnels through time, by DelmarvaNow, April 14, 2004. That is an excellent newspaper article about the 40-year anniversary of the CBBT.
Parallel Trestle Project
A new parallel two-lane span has been built, and it is conceptually very similar to the trestle and bridge portions of the original Bridge-Tunnel. The new span has a deck 38 feet wide, and has a full 10-foot-wide emergency shoulder on the right. Completion for the whole project occurred in April 1999. Most of the parallel trestle is 250 feet west of the existing span; the northern two miles of new trestle is 500 feet west. The cost of the parallel trestle (bridge) project was $197 million, and the project started in June 1995. It included parallel 2-lane roadways on the land approaches to the bridge-tunnel also, and a parallel 2-lane roadway on Fisherman Island. The existing spans were closed for renovation and resurfacing after the new spans opened, and emergency pull-off bays were built at about 1-mile intervals. With the parallel trestle project complete, 15 miles of the 17.6-mile Bridge-Tunnel is now four-lane divided, which comprises everything except the tunnels and their immediate approaches.
Beginning in 1991, toll revenue bonds were sold to finance engineering, environmental and traffic studies for the parallel trestle project. Sverdrup Civil, Inc., was the engineering consultant that was selected to design, prepare specifications and contract documents, and be construction manager for the project. On May 4, 1995, the CBBT Commission awarded a construction contract in the amount of $197,185,177 to a joint venture of PCL Civil Constructors, Inc. of Denver, Colorado, The Hardaway Company of Columbus, Georgia, and Interbeton, Inc. of Rockland, Massachusetts, to build a second span parallel and adjacent to the original Bridge-Tunnel. The project was financed by the proceeds from toll revenue bonds sold by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District, and it was completed on April 19, 1999. No local, state or federal tax monies were utilized for the construction costs.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District (CBBTD) had three reasons for the parallel trestle project --
Why was the facility expanded?
The facility was expanded for three principal purposes:
(1) To accommodate future traffic growth. The four lanes allow traffic to safely pass slow-moving vehicles thus preventing delays along the 20-mile crossing. The only time a slow-moving vehicle will delay traffic is through the two tunnels. After exiting the tunnels, all traffic behind the slow-mover will be able to pass. Also, when conducting routine maintenance, traffic will be diverted to another lane through the use of signs and traffic cones which eliminates the need for traffic control personnel and makes the work site much safer and more cost effective.
(2) To provide safer travel. Most accidents occurred on the trestles, bridges, and roadways; not in the tunnels. Therefore, by providing four travel lanes for separate north- and southbound traffic, most accidents will be prevented, i.e., head-on collisions and rear-end collisions due to stopped vehicles.
(3) To allow for maintenance and major repair projects. Many major repair projects could not be accomplished without completely closing the span. With four lanes, traffic can be transferred to one of the spans while making major repairs to the other.
They also address tolls and traffic --
Will the toll increase?
No, a toll increase is not anticipated in the future; however, increases are dependent on the economy, energy shortages, or other occurrences that could severely diminish traffic and revenues which could make a toll increase necessary in the future. A steady increase in the rate of growth similar to the historic 35-year growth rate of 2.5-3.0% per year would meet financial expectations at the current toll rate. Although it may be necessary to consider a toll increase to finance the construction of the two tunnels, this cannot be determined at the present.
Does traffic jam when merging into the tunnels?
There is some slowdown due to the merge; however, with signing, pavement markings and physical barriers prior to the merge area, traffic has a considerable distance to merge prior to the tunnels. The four lanes double the capacity of the trestles to carry traffic; however, traffic is not being doubled because of the four lanes. Traffic is expected to continue to grow at the historic rate; therefore, there will not be additional traffic through the tunnels.
Above quotes from Frequently Asked Questions on CBBT official website.
The enabling legislation in 1990 provided authorization for a full parallel bridge-tunnel facility --
A description of the parallel trestle 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.
Above quotes from Historical Background on CBBT official website.
Parallel Tunnel Project
The parallel islands and tunnels are not under construction at this time. The traffic warrants are there, but the cost will be about $470 million, and the money is not available yet. The traffic volume on the Bridge-Tunnel is about 8,800 vehicles per day, and can approach 20,000 on busy summer days.
I talked to a CBBTD public affairs person back
in January 2002, and asked for whatever information was available about the future
parallel tunnel projects. I was told that the tunnels were not planned or needed
yet, and that no detailed engineering estimate had been prepared to find out exactly
how much that it would cost. However, their in-house chief engineer did a feasibility
study in 2001 and determined a ballpark figure. To parallel both tunnels and manmade
islands with same length, same depth tunnels, would cost $470 million.
Some commercial shipping interests want a deeper channel at the Thimble Shoal Channel (the southerly channel, for Hampton Roads ship traffic), and that would require a deeper depth tunnel at that location, and this has been discussed in the local newspaper media.
According to the CBBTD public affairs person, the current Thimble Shoal Channel is 45 feet deep on the inbound channel and is 50 feet deep on the outbound channel. The depths stated are below average low tide. The deeper tunnel desired by the commercial shipping interests (really just for the colliers, the coal cargo ships) would be built deep enough so that a future 63 foot deep channel could be safely dredged over the tunnel. This would entail building a longer, deeper twin-bore sunken tunnel with 2 lanes in each tube, and the binocular tunnel element would be similar in cross section to the I-664 Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel; a single prefabricated tunnel element with two tubes and 2 lanes in each. The greater length of the new tunnel would be necessary in order to reach the lower maximum depth below sea level, while maintaining the same maximum roadway grades. This new 4-lane tunnel, manmade islands and bridge connections would cost $670 million. The existing 2-lane tunnel would be abandoned after the opening of the new 4-lane tunnel, and it would be allowed to remain in place until such time as the channel deepening project came to dredge the 63-foot-deep channel; and at that time the obstructing portion of the old tunnel would be demolished and removed.
If the Thimble Shoal Channel gets the new 4-lane tunnel, the Chesapeake Channel (northerly channel, for Baltimore ship traffic) would still get a 2-lane parallel tunnel at the same depth and same length. Nobody has yet suggested deepening that northerly channel. The total cost for this option would be $900 million ($230 million at Chesapeake Channel, $670 million at Thimble Shoal Channel). CBBTD would require that other parties (private and/or government) pay the difference ($430 million) between this option and the first option where both tunnels would be paralleled with a 2-lane tube.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Looks at Doubling Tunnels, May 10, 2004, by Peter Samuel of TOLLROADSnews, is an article about the Parallel Tunnel Project. There is lots of information there, and I'll just cite the recent traffic volume levels. Traffic is growing steadily is forecast to grow about 40% to 13,700/day by 2025 (AADT is annual average daily traffic). From his article:
One-way toll on Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Increase to $12, by
May 11, 2004. Excerpts follow (in blue text):
I can't see in that article whether that $860 million cost estimate includes the option for a new 4-lane tunnel at Thimble Shoal Channel, or the option for a parallel 2-lane tunnel. The article does say that the cost estimate was based on projected 2015 dollars, and given that heavy construction sees considerably higher annual cost inflation rates than does the general consumer price index, that would account for a much higher price than the estimate that I got from CBBTD in 2002, which was in 2002 dollars.
Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) of the General Assembly of
Virginia, in 2002 released a report about the CBBT.
"The Future of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel", November 2002.
Summary, Staff Briefing, Technical Appendix
Links to My Photo Pages
Four Photos of CBBT parallel span construction, August 1997 --
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel - August 1997 Photos
Five Photos of CBBT parallel span construction, August 1998 --
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel - August 1998 Photos
Six Photos of First Annual Bike Day/Walk, November 1998 --
Chesapeake Bay Bridge- Tunnel - Go to Sea on Your Bike
CBBT brochures, CBBT website, ASCE article, and listed newspaper articles.
Links to External Websites
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel official website.
"The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel", from The History and Heritage of Civil Engineering in Virginia, by J.C. Hanes and J.M. Morgan, Jr., 1973, Virginia Section of American Society of Civil Engineers.
The bridge-tunnel is still a work in progress, by Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia Century Series, Sunday, June 13, 1999.
Lucius J. Kellam, Jr. Bridge-Tunnel, a fine privately developed website about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, by Ben Holmberg and George Reagan, with lots of photos and textual historical information.
History - Tunnels through time, by DelmarvaNow, April 14, 2004, an excellent newspaper article about the 40-year anniversary of the CBBT.
One-way toll on Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Increase to $12, by Virginian-Pilot, May 11, 2004.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel - Roadtrip with photos from AARoads.com.
Real Millennium Trip - The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel - more photos.
Copyright © 1997-2005 by Scott Kozel. All rights reserved. Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.
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By Scott M. Kozel, Roads to the Future
(Created 8-14-1997, last updated 2-13-2005)