- The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is a 17.6-mile scenic shortcut across the Chesapeake Bay; the northbound section opened in 1964 and the southbound in 1999.
- This complex structure has a series of low-level trestles, high-level bridges, and four artificial islands with one-mile-long tunnels beneath the Chesapeake and Thimble Shoal navigation channels.
- Many kinds of birds take refuge in the tunnels and below the bridge is abundant marine life including blue crabs, striped bass, and even bottlenose dolphins.
Would you like to take the shortcut of a lifetime?
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is a 17.6-mile scenic shortcut. The bridge saves drivers hundreds of miles from Virginia’s rural eastern shore to the urban western shore. Since opening, over 67 million vehicles have traveled across the bridge. But this bridge is more than just something to get you from point A to B. The epic bridge also provides amazing wildlife viewing opportunities.
In this article, we’ll discover the history of Virginia’s longest bridge. We’ll also find out what wildlife is swimming in the waters below and flying above. Follow along as we reveal everything you need to know about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
About the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is 17.6 miles long, making it the longest bridge in Virginia. Right between Hampton Roads and Delmarva, the bridge crosses the Chesapeake Bay to enter the state of Virginia. The engineering marvel has been leading travelers for over 50 years.
There are tolls all along Virginia’s longest bridge. To have the best experience, purchase an E-Z pass. You’ll need the pass to qualify for current toll rates and any special discounts. Having a pass also means you won’t have to stop the entire ride!
The peak season for the bridge begins May 19th, 2023. The season starts every Friday at 12:00 a.m. and continues until 11:59 p.m. the following Sunday. Peak season will continue from May 19th through September 15th.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel’s Real Name
It may be called the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, but the official name for the structure is the Lucius J. Kellam, Jr. Bridge Tunnel. Kellam was the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Commission until 1993. Today the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and tunnel commission still operates this transportation facility.
History of the Bridge
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel has been operating for almost 60 years! Once the idea for the bridge became a reality, things went fairly fast. It was September 7th, 1960, when the northbound section’s construction first began. Less than 45 months later, cars were already making the trip. Alternatively, the southbound portion of the bridge began on June 16th, 1995, and was available to the public by April 19th, 1999.
The cost for both sections is also similar. The northbound section cost $200 million; the southbound section cost $250 million. And no tax dollars were used to construct this behemoth of a bridge. Instead, financing came from the sale of revenue bonds and the Chesapeake Bay and bridge-tunnel district.
Where Is the Bridge Located on a Map?
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel connects the Virginia mainland with the eastern shore. Before the tunnel, residents relied on a ferry service to travel between Virginia’s Eastern shore and the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. The ferry service was discontinued, and the bridge became the primary way to cross the shores.
How the Bridge Works
How does the architecture work for the longest bridge in Virginia? The Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel project is a four-lane vehicle toll crossing structure. The bridge provides the only direct link between the South Hampton roads and Virginia’s Eastern shore.
The structure works with a series of low-level trestles, high-level bridges, and four artificial Islands. There are also one-mile-long tunnels beneath the Chesapeake and Thimble Shoal navigation channels. The tunnels dip below the water into small artificial islands.
There are four small artificial islands, and they’re approximately 5.25 acres each. The high-level bridges are over the Fishermen’s Inlet Bridge and North Channel Bridge. The structure also crosses over the Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The bridge’s scenic overlook provides the perfect wildlife viewing opportunity, but there aren’t any stops. You won’t encounter a traffic light or stop sign the entire drive.
When you’re crossing directly, the trip takes about 25 minutes. The length of the bridge depends on where you’re approaching. If you include the approach roads, the bridge is 23 miles long. When you measure from toll plaza to toll plaza, the bridge is 20 miles long. Finally, when you measure from shore to shore, you get the 17.6-mile measurement.
Amazing Opportunities for Birders
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel creates the perfect habitat for birds to rest and hunt. All sorts of birds come through during their spring and fall migrations. The most frequent visitors include the harley quinn duck, little gull, and red-breasted merganser. The famous peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on the planet.
Birders can view the wildlife from the artificial islands and must be accompanied by security staff. Birding visits can be arranged in advance with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel administration.
Wildlife Living Beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Chesapeake Bay is home to over 3,000 species of animals and plants. There are 173 species of shellfish, approximately 30 species of waterfowl, and a whopping 348 species of finfish. Plenty of blue crabs, striped bass, and even bottlenose dolphins swim through the waters.
The Chesapeake Bay region’s shores also support various land mammals. You’ll find black bears, coyotes, beavers, whitetail deer, foxes, and others here. Now and then, an alligator even passes through to dine on blue crabs. However, the Chesapeake Bay is too cold to support alligator populations year-round. At least 12 shark species also visit parts of the bay. Some of the most common sightings include spiny dogfish, smooth dogfish, sand tiger shark, and bull shark.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Paul's Photo Shop/Shutterstock.com
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