Long a landmark, Bay Bridge still inspires feeling of awe

This Just In...

November 16, 2001|By DAN RODRICKS

A FRIEND with an old but sturdy boat treated us to a day on the water, and we decided to make a trip from Middle River to the Bay Bridge. The November air was crisp, but the sun warmed our faces.

Approaching the bridge, we spotted dozens of gulls squawking and feeding madly on small bait- fish near the concrete piers that form the foundation of the eastbound span. Joe, our captain, maneuvered his Egg Harbor into position, and we cast our lines toward the piers in an effort to hook some of the rockfish that were attacking the baitfish from beneath while the gulls feasted from above.

There was much to admire in the moment - the feeding frenzy of bird and fish, the clear skies, the sprawling vista of the Chesapeake to the north and south. But when the fishing slowed, I found myself again awed by the man-made thing above us, the twin spans of bridge we all take for granted, the long steel horizon that lives by now in the Marylander's mind as common landscape.

I've been there by boat maybe three dozen times, and some days the fishing has been so good I barely notice the thing or hear the hum of traffic above me. Still, when you've time to stop and stare, to imagine and wonder, the Bay Bridge presents an awesome stature - it's a little spooky, to tell the truth - and I wonder if the spirits of those who conceived and built it don't dwell among the rivets.

Maybe that romantic notion is inappropriate for such a utilitarian object. The bridge is not an artistic masterpiece, after all; other spans are more stunning to the eye, and they've inspired poets.

But, when I'm looking up at our bridge from a boat, I react in a kind of small-boy way: I'm impressed that it's there at all - one of the longest over-water steel structures in the world.

It was an engineering feat that transformed life in the region, connecting the urbanized Western Shore and the rest of Maryland with the nine counties of the Eastern Shore.

The concept of that west-east connection existed on various drawing boards around here for decades. Many on the Eastern Shore fought the bridge, fearing that it would forever ruin the rural life and culture of the peninsula. Opponents predicted that ice floes in the first bad winter would destroy the bridge. They believed ships would bump into it at night. Some even argued that the bridge would alter water currents in a way that would harm the bay's oysters. H.L. Mencken dismissed the proposal as a Realtors' scheme, and I suppose that if the famous columnist were still with us and could visit Ocean City, he'd feel vindicated and appalled.

The state went ahead with the project in the baby-boom years after World War II.

Construction of the first span, serving these days as the two eastbound lanes, started in November 1949. Amazingly - because I would have assumed the job took much longer back then - it opened for traffic fewer than three years later, on July 30, 1952.

The project cost $41 million and involved 6.5 million hours of labor. The crews that built its foundations drove 4,100 steel pilings weighing a total of 17,500 tons into the bay floor, the deepest of these running 203 feet below the water. More than 30,000 tons of structural steel went into the Bay Bridge, and 6,000 tons of reinforcing steel, and 1,500 tons of suspension cable leading to the bridge's highest point - 354 feet above the shipping channel. Workers moved 2.5 million cubic yards of soil and hauled in 151,400 tons of protection stone. I can't really get a mental lock on 118,000 cubic yards of concrete, but that's how much they poured into the first span.

The Bay Bridge, named for the late Gov. William Preston Lane Jr., is more than 4 miles long.

And it's all still standing there, above our little boat on a crisp but sunny day in November, with gulls squawking in its shadows, nearly 50 years later.

In memory of Vinny

LeRoy Edmunds, the Baltimore County firefighter who made a Super Bowl wager - and a friendship - in January with a brassy New York City firefighter named Vinny Princiotta (TJI, Sept. 26), attended a memorial service for him. It was in a church outside the upstate New York town where Princiotta lived with his wife and 15-month-old daughter. Edmunds made the trip with a few other county firefighters and some from Baltimore. He thinks about 500 firefighters attended.

"I was doing pretty good, standing at attention, until a little girl went by in a car," Edmunds said. "It wasn't Vinny's little girl, but another little girl, maybe 9 years old. She must have been a relative. She went by in a car, and I saw her face in the window and she was crying, and that's when it got me, you know? I was doing pretty good until then."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.