When I first entered the trades, F. W. Behler installed lots of galvanized and copper spouting. I was not keen on working several stories above terra firma, which hampered my speed in getting-er-done. What to do to overcome my fear of heights? Go skydiving of course!

That brilliant idea came to my friend and me one night in a bar — not that alcohol had anything to do with our bravado. Off we ventured and what an incredible experience it was. My buddy, on the other hand, had one serious problem after another. On our first jump, he came down through electric power lines, and his nylon parachute shorted out the power for a large area! He was unhurt, but our team decided it best we get outta Dodge before any authorities arrived. After the fiascos he endured with each jump, he quit. I remained, and on the last scheduled jump in my purchased package, I headed to the airfield on my Harley Davidson Superglide (factory version of a chopper) only to find everyone in a somber mood. There had been an accident the previous day, and it turned out to be the guy who was packing my parachute. A double malfunction in both the main and emergency parachutes resulted in his death. That was the day I decided no more skydiving for me.

Fortunately, skydiving cured my fear of heights, and a good thing too as roughly once a month we put our lives, quite literally, into the hands of civil engineers while crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on our way to Chincoteague, Virginia, to our vacation house and home to the Assateague Wildlife Refuge with its herd of famous wild ponies. I have a special affinity with the eastbound two-lane side, as we’re the same age! We both got our start in 1952.

At the time, the Bay Bridge was the third-longest bridge in the world and the longest continuous bridge over water. For many, the bridge is too scary to cross, and we have friends who won’t even consider crossing the bridge. Considered to be the scariest bridge in America, and one of the 10 most frightening bridges in the world, you rise up to a height of nearly 200-feet above the Chesapeake Bay at the peak. Some folks simply cannot face the prospect of driving themselves over the Bay Bridge and there are folks making their living driving people, in their own vehicles, over the bridge!

The second span, completed in 1973, has three lanes, and when traffic dictates, one lane is reversed, making for two lanes westbound with the single lane, along with the two-lane 1952 bridge going eastbound. Not only do motorists now need to overcome anxiety and/or fear of the height, but oncoming traffic with just a few feet between passing vehicles. As several articles intoned: Just don’t look down. Yikes!  Once, while we were crossing the Bay Bridge, the Blue Angels flew under the bridge, which was pretty awesome to witness. They were performing for graduation ceremonies at the Annapolis Naval Academy.

Considered to be the scariest bridge in America, and one of the 10 most frightening bridges in the world, you rise up to a height of nearly 200-feet above the Chesapeake Bay at the peak.

Engineering history

J. E. Greiner Co.was the civil engineering firm that designed both the 1952 and 1973 spans. Based in Baltimore, the firm was active in politics, which led to their being chosen for the projects. Founded in 1908 by John E. Greiner and sold to URS Corp. in 1985, Greiner provided civil engineering for an impressive array of major bridges and highways.

Plans for a bridge crossing the Chesapeake were first proposed in 1907, and by 1927, authorization was granted for financing its construction. The great depression of 1929 killed that deal. Plans were once again made in 1938 by the Maryland General Assembly for a span where the existing Bay Bridge stands today. Once again, those plans fell by the wayside because of World War II. In 1947, the Maryland General Assembly once again brought forth legislation to approve the construction of the Bay Bridge, and ground was broken in January of 1949 for what would be a three and a half year construction with the grand opening on July 30, 1952. It opened at 6 p.m., also the same time the last ferry docked, thus ending ferry service across the bay.

Time was we had to stop to pay a toll before EZ Pass came along, and initially, just four EZ Pass lanes existed. The fee was $6, and an average of 65,000 vehicles cross each day. With the combined construction costs of $45,000,000 and $148,000,000, and annual toll collections approaching $140,000,000, if everyone crossing was paying the full $6 fee, the spans will have long ago paid for themselves. One thing we have noticed over the span of the past several decades is the routine maintenance that is constantly being performed. Today, the tollbooths are gone and no one needs EZ Pass because they employ license plate readers and bill you by mail. For EZ Pass holders, they tap your account for the toll fee. Once the tollbooths were removed, Maryland’s Governor rolled back the toll to $4. The view alone is worth the price of admission for folks who can stomach the dizzying heights — only fleeting glances for this driver!

At times the Bay Bridge has closed for bad weather and/or high winds. It is a bit disconcerting to be pushed about by high winds during a crossing and tractor-trailers are banned when winds kick up. You can’t help but marvel at the engineering and daring do for those who braved the elements to build these two incredible spans.    

The following information is from the Bay Bridge website: Maryland’s scenic Bay Bridge is truly one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the last century. Here are some engineering “Facts and Feats” regarding the bridge:

  • The eastbound and westbound spans contain seven different bridge-structure types, including concrete beams, steel beams/girders, continuous steel girders, steel deck truss, deck cantilever, through truss and suspension;
  • When the Bay Bridge’s original span opened in July 1952, its 4.3 miles made it the world’s third longest bridge, as well as the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure;
  • Several superstructure sections of the bridge were built on barges and floated into place;
  • During construction of the two spans, more than 3.3 million cubic yards of earth were moved, 126,100 tons of steel and 286,000 cubic yards of concrete were used, and reinforced concrete piers supported on steel piles were driven hundreds of feet below the Bay’s surface;
  • The suspension towers for the eastbound and westbound spans rise 354 feet and 379 feet (respectively) above the water; the driving surface of the eastbound span is 186 feet above the Bay, while the westbound spans are 200 feet above the Bay;
  • Crews building the bridge’s original span used a pre-cellular mobile phone system based on transmitters located at Sandy Point and on tug boats, derricks, diggers, pile drivers and utility boats.