Chesapeake Bay Bridge History

Here is history about the Chesapeake Bay bridges (existing and unbuilt) in Maryland. I found a 1964 report at the Enoch Pratt Free Library (the state library) in downtown Baltimore. Apparently the history of these crossings goes back far earlier than I realized. The first solid proposal was in 1907, and other early solid proposals occurred in 1918, 1919, 1926, 1935 and 1938. A couple of the early bay crossing proposals were for a railroad bridge. The proposals between 1907 and 1935 were for a bridge between Miller Island and Tolchester Beach, and the current Sandy Point-Kent Island location was first proposed in 1938.

This 1964 report was on engineering location studies for 3 crossings; looking at a second span for the 2-lane 1952-built Sandy Point to Kent Island bridge, at the aforementioned unbuilt northern crossing, and at a southern crossing between Calvert County and Dorchester County.

This map came from Location Studies - Chesapeake Bay Crossings, for the State Roads Commission of Maryland, by consulting engineers J.E. Greiner Company and Coverdale & Colpitts, January, 1964. The report was on engineering location studies for 3 Chesapeake Bay crossings; looking at a second span for the 2-lane 1952-built Sandy Point to Kent Island bridge, a northern crossing, and a southern crossing. The locations of all three proposed crossings are shown.

Click for larger map images: Medium (148K), Large (357K), Extra Large (457K). Use "Back" button to return. The largest image has the best detail.

The unbuilt Northern Bay Bridge and the unbuilt Southern Bay Bridge were active proposals until the 1970s, and over 20 years ago I saw later (about 1970) engineering studies for them, but I'll have to do more research to find them. The proposed locations were very similar to those of this 1964 study.

The Northern Bay Bridge would have been about 6.9 miles long, with 2 lanes, connecting between Miller Island east of Edgemere in Baltimore County, and Tolchester Beach in Kent County, and it would have also involved a bridge about 1.0 mile long connecting Miller Island to the Western Shore either at Cedar Point on the Essex Peninsula or at North Point on the Dundalk Peninsula. Connecting highway would have extended west (with several different alternative possibilities) to the then-as-yet-unbuilt eastern portion of the Baltimore Beltway and the then-as-yet-unbuilt Patapsco Freeway, and east to US-301 about 3 miles east of Centreville in Queen Anne's County.

The Southern Bay Bridge would have been about 6.3 miles long, with 2 lanes, and connecting highway would have extended west to MD-2/MD-4 and extended east to MD-16. MD-4 wasn't on the map in the report, it was MD-416 then. The facility would have connected between Lusby in Calvert County and Taylors Island in Dorchester County.

The MdTA William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge Fact Sheet posts similar info about the early proposals, albeit in more summarized form. It also says that all the early proposals were for crossings along the Miller Island - Tolchester Beach corridor, and it wasn't until 1938 that legislative proposals were advanced for the current Bay Bridge location, since it wasn't until then that a highway system in that area existed that would provide approaches for such a crossing.

The 1938 legislation marked the beginning of the "pooled toll financing" concept that Maryland uses for its highway toll facilities. Today there are 7 such facilities, and they are jointly financed by common revenue bond issues which are serviced by pooled toll collections. Even though most of the facilities are not connected to each other and are located in 4 different regions of the state, this is the way that Maryland administers its highway toll facilities. The Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) is the administrative agency.

The existing location of the Bay Bridge is centrally located for both the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas, for traffic access between them and the Eastern Shore and ocean resorts in Maryland and Delaware.

In 1964, the 2-lane 1952-built Chesapeake Bay Bridge was already experiencing major traffic congestion at weekend peak traffic periods, with brief one-way traffic operation at times. The parallel 3-lane span was completed on June 28, 1973. This 1964 report was a major foundational planning study that ultimately resulted in the second span.

Location Studies - Chesapeake Bay Crossings, for State Roads Commission of Maryland, by consulting engineers J.E. Greiner Company and Coverdale & Colpitts, January, 1964.

(verbatim copy from public document follows, in blue text)


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.

(end verbatim copy from public document)

My main article about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Copyright 2000-2003 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 9-3-2000, updated 4-13-2003)