The Chesapeake Bay Bridges carry US Routes 50 and 301 over the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis, Maryland.
Ferries were used as the main mode of transportation across the Chesapeake Bay in the vicinity of Annapolis and Kent Island as early as the Colonial era when a regularly operated ferry operated between the Annapolis shore and Kent Island until the 1800s. 14 Demand and pressure for some sort of a Bay crossing near Baltimore led to the inauguration of regular ferry service between Annapolis and Claiborne, a 23-mile trip that required two hours. 4
The Eastern Shore terminal was relocated to Metapeake in June 1930. 2 After the ferry was taken over by the State Roads Commission in 1941, 2 4 the Western Shore terminal was relocated to Sandy Point in 1943. 2
The first proposal to construct a bridge over the Chesapeake Bay in the vicinity of Annapolis came in 1907 for a crossing between Bay Shore near Baltimore and Tolchester Beach. 3 Peter C. Campbell, a Baltimore businessman, and State Senator, told his associates that goods coming from the eastern shores of Maryland, which had been coming by boat to Baltimore, was going north by highway and railroad to Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 4
The following year, the Merchants & Manufacturers Association developed a report on the feasibility of a privately financed bridge to carry interurban trolley lines across the Bay and down the shore. 4 By 1919, the proposal had morphed into a double-deck structure to carry both railroad and trolley lines. In 1927, a group of businessmen from Baltimore was authorized to raise funds to build the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and detailed plans were developed, but all work ceased following the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression of the 1930s. Several commissions in the 1930s to resurrect the proposal went nowhere as the Federal government was reluctant to distribute funds for the private bridge.
A proposal unveiled in 1938 by the Maryland General Assembly was the first to call for a fixed crossing between Sandy Point and Matapeake on Kent Island. 3 Legislation authorizing the new bridge passed but World War II delayed the bridge’s construction. In 1947, with the war over, with the encouragement of Governor William Preston Lane Jr., the state passed legislation directing the State Roads Commission to begin construction. 4
All earlier proposals for a bridge across the Bay had called for a crossing in the Bay Shore and Tolchester area, however, the need to avoid hazardous navigation and the need to provide access to the lower eastern shore made a bridge located in the Sandy Point and Metapeake area more desirable. 4 The ground was broken for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at its western terminus in January 1949 and by March 1950, the first permanent piles were driven into the water’s bottom for the causeway. By the end of the year, all underwater work had been finished, including the erection of the massive concrete piers to support the main towers and the anchor piers to hold the suspension cables.
The new $45 million Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened to traffic after 3½ years on July 30, 1952. 4 The 2-lane bridge was the largest public works project in the state’s history, 4 and longest continuous over-water steel structure, and the third-longest bridge in the world. 5 Prior to its official opening, a parade of vehicles made the first official crossing led by Governor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin and other state officials in a distinctive white Cadillac convertible flying huge American and Maryland flags. 6 On November 9, 1967, it was officially dedicated to Governor Lane who had died earlier in the year, and officially renamed the “William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge.” 4
By the early 1960s, summer weekend traffic had begun to overwhelm the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. 4 It was apparent that the only permanent relief was to build an additional structure over the Bay. In 1967, the Maryland General Assembly authorized the State Roads Commission to oversee the construction of three specific crossings of the Bay, which included proposals for a crossing near Baltimore, one in the southern reaches of the state, and a parallel span to the existing Chesapeake Bay Bridge. On June 28, the Commission resolved that a parallel bridge be built adjacent to the existing facility.
On May 28, 1968, the United States Coast Guard granted a permit for the construction of a new bridge 450 feet north of the existing crossing at Sandy Point. 4 Construction began on May 19, 1969, and the second $148 million crossing opened to westbound traffic on June 28, 1973. 4 6 The original bridge was repurposed for eastbound traffic.
In December 2004, a study concluded that traffic across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was expected to increase by 40% by 2025. 7 A task force formed by Governor Gob Ehrlich explored the possibility of establishing a new crossing of the bay, which explored four geographic locations for a new bridge: between Sandy Point and Matapeake at the current location; Baltimore County to Kent County; Anne Arundel or Calvert County to Talbot County; and Calvert County to Dorchester County. 8 It concluded that a third bridge at the current crossing site would be the best option going forward, although no final recommendation was made. 9
In 2020, it was announced that 11 of the 14 potential sites for a third span at the existing bay crossing had been rejected by the Maryland Transportation Authority following a $5 million environmental and economic impact study. 10
- State: Maryland
- Route: US Route 50
- Type: Wire Suspension, Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 4.33 miles (1952); 4.35 miles (1973)
- Main Span Length: 1,600 feet
- Deck Width: 28 feet (1952); 38 feet (1973)
- Height: 354 feet (1952); 379 feet (1973)
- Gayman, Jennifer. “Kent Island.” Maryland Online Encyclopedia, 2005.
- Saucedo, Brian, and Anne McNulty. (July 12, 2018). “Ferry Tales of the Chesapeake Bay.” What’s Up? Media, 12 Jul. 2018.
- Intern, Waxter. “How the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Connected Maryland.” Preservation Maryland, 26 May 2017.
- “The William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge.” Maryland Transportation Authority, May 2009.
- “William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge: Engineering Feats.” Maryland Transit Administration.
- “William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge: History.” Maryland Transit Administration.
- Berman, Dori. “Task force says second Chesapeake Bay bridge is best option.” Baltimore Daily Record, 27 Jun. 2005.
- “Meeting #2: Bridge, Traffic, and Highway Issues.” Maryland Transportation Authority.
- Wyatt, Kristen. “Bay Bridge Report Released without Recommendation.” WTOP, 29 Aug. 2006.
- Shaver, Katherine. “Maryland is studying three sites for a new Chesapeake Bay crossing, report says.” Washington Post, 1 Sept. 2020.