We recently met our children for a week on Sandbridge, in Virginia Beach, VA. About a 9-hour drive from home, the beach was gorgeous (despite unseasonably cool weather) as expected, and constant US Navy F-18s flying overhead thrilled the aviation geek in me. There’s plenty to do in VA Beach, but one of the highlights (for me, at least!) was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, just a short drive from our lodging.
Opened just a few days before I was born in 1964, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is still a modern engineering wonder, as well as an important coastal travel shortcut. The 20-mile bridge-tunnel crosses over and twice under the Chesapeake Bay as it meets the Atlantic Ocean, linking Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore counties in Maryland and Virginia and cutting nearly 100 miles between VA Beach and Wilmington, Delaware. The tunnels have a minimum (low tide) of 40’ of navigable water depth above, and the bridges are 40-75’ above the surface. Four man-made islands sit 30’ above water, and one, Sea Gull Island, is complete with gift shops, restaurant, fishing pier, and extraordinary views. Unfortunately, the building/ restaurant at Sea Gull Island is set to close and be demolished in Sept of 2017, and does not look like it will be rebuilt. That covers a few of the basic fun facts, but facts do little to convey just how cool the bridge-tunnel is!
Driving through the toll booth (about $15 one-way, $5 for return within 24-hours) from VA Beach, one starts to see just how long and high the bridge is. Climbing ‘to altitude” on the bridge, the scenery is simply amazing, from the shorelines to the vast array of passing US Navy and cargo ships. About 10 minutes out, the island above the opening of the tunnel looks like a highway rest area floating in the ocean. Instead of watching just passing trucks, however, ships of all types and sizes fascinate as they pass through the gap between the islands. Adding to the view are various seabirds, seals, dolphins- and maybe even whales, on a lucky day! We had a perfect day, so we decided on lunch at the island restaurant just to spend more time watching the bay. The unique restaurant, unfortunately slated to close in Sept 2017 for construction, met with mixed reviews in our group, though my fish BLT was excellent. Before walking back to the car to continue our crossing, we walked around the “island” again, then stood high above the maw of the tunnel. Watching vehicles disappear beneath the water had a Sci-Fi quality, as though all were passing through to another dimension. Entering the tunnel, it looks like any other long tunnel- except the noticeable down, then up again, slope of the road, and the realization there might well be an aircraft carrier passing above as we motored on!
Popping up in the daylight leads to more bridge and another tunnel, this time with just a scenic overlook on the far side of the tunnel- and still more bridge! Reaching the Delmarva Peninsula on the north end of the tunnel-bridge, one finds miles of wildlife refuges, parks, campgrounds and small towns- a stark contrast to the 24-7 tourist (and military) atmosphere of VA Beach. A gorgeous area, and one I’d like to visit again as a destination on the motorbike, but an area requiring a 180 twist in the mindset we came to the beach with. Not that the destination is all that important. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is fascinating enough to be a destination all its own, and a place I’ve visited time and again just to cross over and back!
note: while we visited the tunnel-bridge this summer, the photos used here are actually from a visit several years ago.
Keep Riding Local, Dreaming Global – enjoy!