Emotional attachment

                    Originally published July 31, 2002

                    MARYLANDERS love to walk over it, run over it, sail under it, and
                    swim alongside it.

                    Even driving over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge can be a sensory pleasure.
                    On a glorious summer morning, when the hour is early and the traffic is
                    light, drivers climbing to the top of the bridge nearly 200 feet above the
                    bay's surface feel as if they are about to take flight.

                    So popular is the crescent of steel and asphalt spanning the bay that state
                    transportation officials didn't open yesterday's celebration of its 50th
                    anniversary to the public for fear of being inundated. Tens of thousands
                    typically attend Bay Bridge Run/Walk festivals each spring that are held
                    before beach season because it's easier to accommodate them.

                    There have been plenty of dark moments over that half-century as well,
                    though. Hundreds of people in great despair have come to spend their
                    final moments on the bridge before flinging themselves over the side.

                    And the bridge is pure torture for drivers afraid of heights. Thousands
                    have had to be escorted or towed across over the decades.

                    In a way its creators never could have anticipated, the 4.3-mile double
                    span has struck a deep emotional chord in most who live in this region.
                    Far more than a simple transportation link, the bridge created economic
                    and cultural bonds between communities on both sides of the bay that
                    transformed the state.

                    Folks in Baltimore and elsewhere on the western shore got a speedy way
                    to go down the ocean, hon. Their vacation money brought wealth to
                    sleepy farm towns and fishing villages that had little.

                    Commuters with jobs in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area can
                    actually live on the Eastern Shore, thanks to the shortened trip over the

                    Sadly, much has also been lost in the process, especially the rustic quality
                    of life that made the Eastern Shore so attractive to urban and suburban
                    refugees. The strip malls and condo complexes just over the bridge on
                    Kent Island are enough to make an old-timer weep.

                    None of that can detract, though, from the grandeur of the bridge itself, an
                    engineering work of art that speaks to the soul. Something about its size
                    and vistas puts life in perspective in a way that is both soothing and

                    So, happy birthday, bridge. See you at the party next spring -- when it's
                    not so hot and buggy.

                    Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun