Monday, July 28, 2014

Connecting Two Shores: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

NASA image of the bridge and tunnel connecting the two shores

Road trips. It seems as though our family spends a lot of time in our car traveling from one location to another. In recent years we've driven throughout the well maintained highways and back roads of Scandinavia and we've explored the narrow and winding roads of Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia and everywhere in between. With both of us growing up along the east coast of the United States, we are all too familiar with the Route 95 corridor that snakes its way from Maine to Florida. I'd like to say that it is a pretty drive but it really isn't. Mile upon mile of multi-lane asphalt peppered with strip malls, industrial complexes and only occasional peeks of nature gets old fast. Add in the traffic that inevitably clogs the road regardless of when you travel and the trip is less than pleasant. Whenever the chance arises to actually bi-pass any of it, we take full advantage of the opportunity. And our favorite bi-pass is by far the rural stretch that is the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) peninsula.

While much of the coastline of the Eastern Shore is nothing but nature preserves and small fishing villages, the interior route is almost as dismal as the 95 corridor. Here rural poverty is real and in your face; abandoned farms, dilapidated yet inhabited trailers and businesses doing triple duty as auto garages, bait shops and tourist traps with the occasional fast food joint are all you pass for miles. Here you can buy your tobacco, fireworks and Virginia hams at a single stop. And if you are passing through at the right time you can even throw in a church service or two. I can never decide if this area of Virginia, close to the beltway as the crow flies but miles away in culture, is trapped in time or simply forgotten by the rest of the world. Perhaps it is a bit of both. But the realities of the Eastern Shore aren't what this post is really about. Rather, it is about the highlight of the trip which is the drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Those views more than make up for what is to come.

The series of high rise bridges, gracefully winding causeways and two tunnels that spans the 23 miles across the Chesapeake Bay between Virginia Beach and Cape Charles is what connects this remote part of Virginia with the rest of the state. Built on a series of artificial islands, it was completed as a two lane route in 1964. In the 1990s portions of the route were expanded to four lanes and today it remains one of only ten such bridge and tunnel systems in the world. To engineering fanatics, this roadway system is a modern marvel but to lay travelers like myself it is simply beautiful.

Whether you drive across the bridge at sunrise, sunset or in the middle of the day, the views are breathtaking. For drivers with time to spare, there is a small restaurant and pull off area midway across the Bay where you can stop to take in the views. And while the road itself may seem busy the waterways below are even more so. Cargo ships filled with containers, commercial fishing vessels and small dories and even kayaks are always moving about in the water. And the sight of a Navy vessel and even an aircraft carrier, making its way up the bay towards the base in Norfolk is not an uncommon sight.

It really is a pretty view and I've known many people who simply drive across the bridge and back just to see what they might see. Personally I've never done that but I can understand why one might. So last week as we made our way north from Hampton Roads we joined the long train of travelers and made our way across the Bay. We stopped at the pull off area and took pictures through the early morning summer haze. I looked back onto the sandy shores of Virginia Beach that were dotted with condos and then northward towards the winding expanses of the causeway that seemed to dip and disappear right into the water. Heading north feels like you are driving off into another time and place. And in a sense you are. But since getting to your destination is half of the fun we enjoyed our small piece of serene beauty while we could. After all, there are very few places in the world where you can do this.

Sunset view of the bridge that
leads right into the water

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