For over 50 years, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel has captured worldwide attention as a modern engineering wonder and an important East Coast travel convenience. Crossing over and under open waters where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Bridge-Tunnel provides a direct link between Southeastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware plus the Eastern Shore counties in Maryland and Virginia), and cuts 95 miles from the journey between Virginia Beach and points north of Wilmington, Delaware.
Following its opening on April 15, 1964, the Bridge-Tunnel was selected “One of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World” in a worldwide competition that included more than one hundred major projects. In addition, in 1965, it was distinguished as “The Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement” by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
From the early 1930’s to 1954, a private corporation managed scheduled ferry service between Virginia’s Eastern Shore and the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. With the number of ships (including the number of passengers and vehicles they transported) increasing steadily, the Virginia General Assembly stepped in to create the Chesapeake Bay Ferry District and the Chesapeake Bay Ferry Commission as the governing body of the District; subsequently the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District and Commission.
The Commission was authorized to acquire the private ferry corporation through bond financing, improve existing ferry service and implement a new service between Virginia’s Eastern Shore and the Hampton/Newport News area.In 1956, the General Assembly authorized the Ferry Commission to explore the construction of a fixed crossing. Results of the study indicated a crossing was feasible and recommended a series of bridges and tunnels. In the summer of 1960, the Chesapeake Bay Ferry Commission sold $200 million in revenue bonds to private investors. Monies collected by future tolls were pledged to pay the principal and interest on these bonds. No local, state or federal tax money was used in the construction of the project. In April 1964 – just 42 months after construction began – the Bridge-Tunnel opened to traffic and ferry service was discontinued.
From shore to shore, the Bridge-Tunnel measures 17.6 miles and is considered the world’s largest bridge-tunnel complex. Construction of the span required undertaking a project of more than 12 miles of low-level trestle, two 1-mile tunnels, two bridges, almost 2 miles of causeway, four man made islands and 5-1/2 miles of approach roads, totaling 23 miles.
North America’s largest estuary
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and is one of the most productive bodies of water in the world.
The Chesapeake watershed spans 64,000 square miles, covering parts of six states — Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Over 17 million people live in this area.
The estuary and its network of streams, creeks, and rivers hold tremendous ecological, cultural, economic, historic, and recreational value for the region.
More than 250 fish species use the Bay and tributaries for some portion of their life cycles, including American and hickory shad, river herring, striped bass, eel, weakfish, bluefish, flounder, oysters, and blue crabs. More than 300 migratory bird species can also be found in the watershed. During the fall, the skies come alive as one million ducks, geese, and swans return to overwinter on the Chesapeake.
The History of Chincoteague Ponies
Wild ponies have inhabited Assateague Island for hundreds of years. Some have suggested that the wild ponies of Assateague trace their origin to horses released to forage on the Island by early settlers. However, the evidence strongly suggests that they are the descendants of the survivors of a Spanish galleon which wrecked off the coast of Assateague. This story, which has been passed from generation to generation on Chincoteague Island, is stronger than fiction.
If you’ve ever seen a shipwreck map of the mid Atlantic coastline, then you know that there were a remarkable number of shipwrecks. Before modern navigation, ships used lighthouses and the stars to navigate at night. This worked well until a bad storm came up or heavy fog set in, which impaired visibility. This caused ships to get off course and hit sandbars along the coast. This would usually occur during a storm and the large waves would beat the wooden ship apart. The large number of shipwrecks, together with the fact that it was very common for ships to be transporting ponies to the Colonies or South America, makes it very likely that ponies originally got to Assateague from a shipwreck.
Two herds of wild horses make their home on Assateague Island, separated by a fence at the Maryland-Virginia line. These small but sturdy, shaggy horses have adapted to their environment over the years by eating dune and marsh grasses and drinking fresh water from ponds. While they appear tame, they are wild, and Park Rangers urge visitors not to feed or pet them. Each year the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company purchases a grazing permit that allows the Fire Company to maintain a herd of approximately 150 adult ponies on Assateague Island. They control the herd size with a pony auction on the last Thursday in July. Each year tens of thousands of spectators come to watch the Saltwater Cowboys swim the pony herd from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island.
The Chincoteague Pony has became an official registered breed in 1994. The average height of a Chincoteague Pony is between 12 and 13 hands. Chincoteague Ponies are stocky, with short legs, thick manes, and large, round bellies.
The historic Assateague Lighthouse was built in 1867 and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. However, the first lighthouse on sight was a 45 foot-high brick tower that proved inadequate. The present 142 foot-high brick tower is one of nearly 20 other tall, historic, brick lighthouses still functioning along the Atlantic Coast today.
Sitting on a natural bluff 22 feet above sea level adds to the light’s height and visibility. Because of the dynamic movement of the island, the light no longer sits adjacent to the open sea. The southward growth of the island since 1850 has stranded the lighthouse almost 5 miles from the inlet.
The lighthouse was built because of growing coastal commerce and the alarming number of shipwrecks that were occurring.
The first light was an oil-burning, fixed Fresnel lens, visible for up to 18 miles.