Chesapeake Bay Bridge Marks 50 Years

                    By JOHN BIEMER
                           Associated Press Writer
                           Originally published July 30, 2002, 3:41 AM EDT

                    STEVENSVILLE, Md. -- It was half a century ago that Gov. Theodore
                    Roosevelt McKeldin christened the bridge that pulled together
                    Maryland's eastern and western shores.

                    Sitting in a white convertible adorned with two U.S. flags, McKeldin led
                    a motorcade of antique cars across the William Preston Lane Jr.
                    Memorial Bridge and declared it "a triumph of our system of enterprise.
                    A symbol of America."

                    When it first
                    opened to traffic 50
                    years ago Tuesday,
                    what's popularly
                    known today as the
                    Chesapeake Bay
                    Bridge was the
                    third-longest in the
                    world, with a 4.3
                    mile span.

                    Over 50 years, it
                    has accelerated
                    trade, opened new
                    markets to farmers
                    and brought
                    beaches in the popular summer destination of Ocean City hours closer
                    to tourists -- dramatically altering commerce in Maryland.

                    Before the bridge, a ferry brought passengers and about 50 vehicles at a
                    time across the water from Annapolis to Matapeake. The crossing took
                    about 45 minutes, although lines to get on board were often backed up
                    for hours -- especially in summer.

                    "It was an all-day trip," said Sandy Jones, 75, who took the ferry
                    several times. "It depended on whether or not you were lucky enough to
                    catch one of the ferries." When the bridge went up, the ferries went out
                    of business.

                    Before the bridge, many people didn't want it. The Sage of Baltimore,
                    H.L. Mencken, derided the project as "ridiculous" and "fantastic."

                    Opposition was especially strong on the Eastern Shore, which was then
                    a sparsely populated area devoted to agriculture and fishing. It was
                    dotted with communities where everyone knew everyone else, and the
                    bridge was sure to invite strangers.

                    "Bay Bridge Is A Big Disadvantage To Shore," trumpeted a front-page
                    editorial in The (Easton) Star Democrat on Feb. 8, 1930, which noted
                    that it would "practically kill retail business."

                    An Eastern Shore state senator, Henry Herbert Balch, filibustered for
                    hours against a measure to fund the project, denouncing Western Shore
                    politicians and bringing up grudges that dated back to colonial times.

                    Despite protests, work began in November 1949.

                    More than 60,000 tons of steel were used to construct the original
                    two-lane eastbound span -- more than it took to build the Empire State
                    Building. Four men died during construction.

                    The bridge was paid for with $45 million in bonds. These days, it costs
                    more than that to repaint the bridge. The cost of a new Wilson Bridge
                    spanning the Potomac River is expected to top $2.4 billion.

                    In its first full year, more than 1.9 million vehicles crossed the Bay
                    Bridge -- well more than the anticipated 1.1 million. As more Americans
                    bought cars, another span was needed, and it opened in 1973.

                    In the years since the bridge was built, Ocean City has exploded in size,
                    and gas stations, fast food restaurants and fruit stands line the road to
                    the resort. Many people commute every day across the span.

                    "It drastically changed lifestyle on most of the Eastern Shore," Jones
                    said. "Everything sort of grew by leaps and bounds."

                     Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press