At the foot of the bridge, Queen Anne's County doubled in size between 1950 and 1990. Its median family income shot up from half the statewide average in 1950 to just about even by 1990.
The relative prosperity is, in part, the result of cross-bay commuting. In fact, an average of 8,000 vehicles carry Delmarva residents westward each day to jobs in Baltimore and Washington.
But in counties further from the bridge, the statistics are not nearly so dramatic. Somerset County's population grew a scant 2,695 over the 40-year period and Dorchester County's an even more modest 2,421. That amounts to five people a month. All the Lower Shore counties reported income levels significantly lower than Queen Anne's.
"It really didn't have the economic impact except at the beaches," said former Governor Hughes, who grew up in Denton. "As far as the rest of the Eastern Shore, I don't think it
had that much of an impact at all."
Nevertheless, many question what would have become of the Shore's nine counties if the bridge and tourism had not flourished. The industries that long supported the region, farming and seafood, have waned over the decades.
"Even people who complain about the bridge are living off the volumes of traffic created by the bridge," said bridge Superintendent Louis O. Kelly, who oversees a staff of 100.
Still, there was a time when a bridge across the Chesapeake Bay seemed like a pipe dream. When it was finally built, at a then-unheard-of price of $41 million, traffic volume quickly exceeded the bridge's capacity.
Why was the first bridge only two lanes?
Planners simply never expected so many cars to make the crossing.
H.L. Mencken scoffed at the idea that a marriage between Baltimore and the Eastern Shore could ever exist. "The Eastern Shore is too far away to be reached, and even a bridge would not bring it close enough," he wrote in an Evening Sun column in 1931. "I see the artful hand of Realtors in the bridge scheme."
Motorists can be grateful today that backups at the bridge have become less frequent, thanks to recent road improvements and a decision to collect tolls in only one direction. The traffic flow last summer was the best in a generation.
It's also cheaper to cross than it was in 1952, when the one-way toll was $1.35 per car and 25 cents for each additional passenger. Today the toll is a flat $2.50 per for a round trip.
The view from the bridge remains spectacular -- sailboats on the Bay, freighters passing underneath, sea gulls in the wind. Beach travelers know they're no longer in the city when they reach the bridge and smell the salt air.
"I have never ceased to be impressed by these bridges," said Mr. Kelly, a Kent Island resident who has worked on the bridge for 32 years. "To me, it's amazing. I never tire of the scenery."
Bay Bridge facts
* The length of the original span is 21,286 feet or 4.03 miles. The parallel span is 235 feet shorter.
* The original bridge cost $41 million in 1952: the second span cost $120 million two decades later.
* 1.9 million vehicles crossed the bridge in 1953; 16.8 million in 1991*.
* The curve on the western end of the bridge was necessary to make sure it crossed the main shiping channel at a right angle,
reducing the chance of a collision.
* Building the bridge required 17, 500 tons of pilings, 42,500 tons of steel, 118,000 cubic yards of concrete, 2,528,000 cubic yards of moved soil and 151,400 tons of protection stone.
* 65,000 gallons of paint are needed to cover the bridge from end to end.
* Toll facilities police responded to 90 accidents on and around the bridge in the year ending March 31.
Since March, 1968, 48 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge. There were 45 unsucessful suicide attempts and five reported jumpers whose bodies were never recovered.
* In 1989, 514 people had to be driven across the bridge by police because they were fearful of driving themselves. By 1990 the number rose to 802.
Last year, it was an all-time record 993.
Toll revenue was $3.6 million in 1953, the bridge's first complete
year. It was $20.6 million in 1991.
Eastern Shore.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .1950.. .. .. 1990.. .. .. Change
Property values (millions of $$)**.. 202.4.. .. ..6,163.. .. ..+3,045%
Population.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .210,623.. .. 343,769.. .. .. .+163%
Median family income.. .. .. .. .. .$2,081.. .. $34,795.. .. . +1,672%
* The 1991 estimate is based on doubling toll reports, since toll was applied to eastbound vehicles only on April 3, 1989.
** Based on assessed value for tax purposes.