Fifty years to the day after he became the first toll-paying customer to
cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Michael Katen retraced that journey
yesterday, joining a bevy of state officials celebrating the mammoth steel
structure's golden anniversary.
Clad in the same gray wool suit he wore on that day a half-century ago,
Mr. Katen, 89, rode in one of the classic cars that drove across the
4.35-mile eastbound span of the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial
Bridge, re-enacting the 1952 christening.
"It's an honor to be here after 50 years," the Margate, Fla., resident
"I'm sorry I can't shake hands with Gov. (Theodore Roosevelt)
McKeldin like I did 50 years ago."
On July 30, 1952, Mr. Katen and his brother, Omero, rolled up to a
brand new toll booth in their dark green, 1950 Plymouth convertible and
paid the toll -- $1.40 for the car and driver plus $.25 for one passenger.
Then, after three days of waiting in line to be the first to cross the
the two men sailed over the world's longest continuous over-water steel
It wasn't the only time Mr. Katen has been the first to cross a bridge
tunnel. He's been "the first" more than 460 times, including being the first
toll-paying driver through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in April
1964, as well as the first in line to pay the toll for the Delaware
But it was the Bay Bridge yesterday that captured everyone's attention.
State Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, speaking at a ceremony
on the Annapolis side, hailed the Bay Bridge's original, two-lane span as
"one of Maryland's true treasures."
The bridge, which cost $45 million to build and at the time was the
state's largest-ever public project, for the first time physically linked
Maryland's eastern and western shores, unifying the state and improving
the flow of commerce and tourism, Mr. Porcari said.
A second, three-lane span was opened in 1973 at a cost of $148
Now nearly 24 million vehicles cross the bridge's two spans annually,
paying a $2.50 toll.
"This bridge has literally helped to improve the lives of millions of
Marylanders and visitors," Mr. Porcari said, the gray steel giant rising
Others among the crowd of more than 100 said the bridge forever
changed life in the region and state.
"(Both spans) mean an awful lot as far as traffic and commuting," said
Severna Park resident Leon Miller, who helped build the westbound
span in the early 1970s. "And they're beautiful, too."
Dorothy Lane Campbell -- daughter of former governor William Preston
Lane Jr., who is credited with making the bridge a reality after 40 years
of debate -- attended yesterday's ceremony just as she attended the
bridge's opening day 50 years ago.
"I'm full of emotion -- happiness and joy," the Cape Cod resident said,
as she stood with her husband, nephew and great-nephew. "I'm proud
that this is here."
Published July 31, 2002, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2002 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.