THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Thursday, September 28, 1995 TAG: 9509280001 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A10 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Editorial LENGTH: Medium: 63 lines
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel linking the Eastern Shore and South Hampton Roads is an engineering feat commanding awe today no less than at its opening on April 15, 1964.
The Chunnel - the great tunnel beneath the English Channel linking England and France - is a more wonderous achievement, no doubt, but the graceful 17.6-mile ribbon of concrete curving across the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and twice dipping below the waves is an etching in the sea. Seen from the air, the bridge-tunnel is a gleaming-white line dividing Atlantic Ocean and the Bay and marking the positions of French Admiral Comte de Grasse's warships that blocked the British fleet on its way to rescue the beleaguered Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.
No person is more identified with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel than Eastern Shore native, businessman and civic leader Lucius James Kellam Jr., age 83 at his death this week. He was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District Commission's first chairman, holding the post from 1954 until 1993 - a record likely to stand. In 1987, the crossing was fittingly dedicated as the Lucius J. Kellam Jr. Bridge-Tunnel.
Guiding the multimillion-dollar bridge-tunnel project from dream to reality was no snap. There was the political fight over where the bridge-tunnel should go - between the Peninsula and the Eastern Shore or where it ultimately was constructed. Mr. Kellam had to deal with the U.S. Navy Department, which naturally was concerned about a prospective hazard to navigation in waters to and from the world's largest and busiest naval base. Then there were the negotiations to finance the ambitious crossing. Mr. Kellam was in the thick of those, too.
The project proceeded despite not-unfounded fears that (1) storm-driven seas and drifting or off-course vessels could damage, if not destroy, the span and (2) traffic might not be sufficient to service the entire debt in an orderly way.
Sure enough, bridge portions of the crossing have occasionally been damaged by vessels, and there was a long period when holders of the riskiest bonds received no interest on their investment.
And the interstate-highway system, in its embryonic stage when the bridge-tunnel was conceived, matured as the bridge-tunnel project ended. Motorists who a decade before would have joyfully elected to pay the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel toll to shave time from north-south travel chose the limited-access, untolled interstate roadways instead. Meanwhile, roads north and south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel remained frustrating go-stop-and-slowdown alternatives to the speedy interstate. Nonetheless, the annual bridge-tunnel traffic count is 2.7 million.
Mr. Kellam weathered the ups and downs and looked forward to and planned for a day when the bridge-tunnel would be a faster and safer (head-on collisions are still a danger on the crossing) component of a faster and safer non-interstate system.
Courtly, commonsensical, courteous, Mr. Kellam served in the Navy during World War II, ran a successful business and involved himself deeply in the life of the Eastern Shore and his church. His distinguished service to his community and his state will be long remembered and honored. by CNB