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Chesapeake Bay Bridge

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge connects the state’s rural Eastern Shore region with its urban Western Shore. Officially, it is the Gov. William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge.

The Bridge is part of US 50 and US 301 and is a busy link between Baltimore and Washington. Summer months and peak hours are notorious for traffic congestion.

Prior to the first span’s construction, ferries served as the Bridge’s transportation, and a task force investigated the possibility of building a third span.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge for Kids

  • Its highest point is 186 feet high
  • It’s called the Bay Bridge by locals
  • It opened on July 30, 1952
  • The Bridge is 4.3 miles (6.9 km) long
  • The Bridge connecting the eastern and western shores of Maryland

Proposals and ferries

As early as the 1880s, studies were conducted on a bridge across the Chesapeake Bay, but construction was halted after the 1929 Wall Street Crash.

The bay was crossed by ferries from the colonial period until 1952. In 1941, the State Roads Commission took over the ferries and moved the western terminus to Sandy Point.

Construction of 1952 span

The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation authorizing a bridge at the Sandy Point – Kent Island location in 1938, but the Bridge’s construction was delayed by World War II. It opened to traffic on July 30, 1952, and was dedicated to Governor William Preston Lane Jr.

1973 Expansion

The Maryland General Assembly authorized a new bridge in 1967 to add a span to the existing Bridge. In 1969, construction on the project began, and it was completed in 1973.

Notable incidents

High winds and narrow spans make the Bay Bridge one of the scariest bridges in the country.

Facts for Kids
Facts for Kids

Extreme weather has closed the Bridge four times, including Hurricane Isabel in 2003, Hurricane Irene in 2011, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

On August 10, 2008, a tractor-trailer fell from the Bridge, killing the driver. Inspections revealed corrosion inside the barriers, which prompted immediate repairs.

Specifications and operations

In Anne Arundel County, Sandy Point Bridge has two spans, an older one of 354 feet (108m) and a newer one of 379 feet (116m).

Structural details

There are no structural differences between the spans except for the number of lanes. They were designed by J. E. Greiner Company.

In order to cross the bay’s shipping channels at 90 degrees, there are two main spans, flanked by deck truss and steel girder spans, and a curve near the western terminus.

Panoramic view of the Bridge, looking south. The anchoring points for the main cables are at water level for the eastbound span and at deck level for the westbound span.

Traffic control

The traffic patterns on the Bridge can be adjusted via lane control signals on both spans and approaches. On weekends, one lane of the westbound span is dedicated to eastbound traffic.

To prevent tailgating and vehicle collisions, pink markers were installed along the eastbound span in 2006.

Two-way operations on the westbound span were improved by the MDTA in April 2013. Left and right lane switching is no longer possible, regardless of two-way operations.

In January 2020, the tollbooths on the eastbound side of the Bridge were removed and replaced with lane control signals and an automated gate system to allow quicker implementation of two-way traffic on the Bridge.

Crossovers, reversible lanes, and two-way traffic are monitored using cones and barrels by the MDTA. In the event of inclement weather, the MDTA will stop all traffic and escort traffic across the Bridge in the reversible lane.

Tolls and fees

The MDTA operates the Bay Bridge and charges $2.50 for one-way tolls. All-electronic tolling began on May 12, 2020.

A walk and run along the Bay Bridge

Governor Larry Hogan participates in 2016 Across the Bay 10K, which takes place on the eastbound span of the Bay Bridge.

The Annapolis Striders hold a 10K race across the Bridge before the walk. Proceeds go to the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

The first walk was held in 1975 and was canceled several times throughout the 2000s due to poor weather conditions, security concerns, construction activity, fiscal concerns, and manpower concerns. In 2011, a non-profit group proposed sponsoring the walk at no cost, but the 2012 event was canceled.

The MDTA, Queen Anne’s County, and an outside company organized a 10K race across the Bridge in 2014, which has since been held virtually due to maintenance on the Bridge.

Impact

Since the Bridge opened, southern Queen Anne’s County has become a bedroom community, and Ocean City has grown from a small town to the second-largest city in Maryland.

In 1948, US 50 was extended to Ocean City to provide better access to the new Bay Bridge. In the 1950s, US 50 was rerouted onto the long-proposed Annapolis – Washington Expressway, and in 2002, a freeway bypass around the north side of Salisbury was built.

Future expansion

By 2025, traffic across the Bridge is expected to increase by 40%. There was a task force formed to investigate a new Chesapeake Bay crossing.

The Maryland Transportation Authority rejected 11 of 14 potential sites for a third span, citing significant environmental and economic impacts.