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I love traveling along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in Virginia when I’m taking a trip up the Eastern Seaboard.
I live in Florida and have been trekking the famous Chesapeake bridge and tunnel route at least once or twice a year for the past few years. Sure, it’s usually faster to take I-95 up or down the East Coast when traveling between, say, Florida and New York City — but sometimes you’ve just got to stop and smell the roses!
The Eastern Shore of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware — which collectively form the Delmarva Peninsula — is one of the most beautiful areas in the United States. In fact, the entire Chesapeake Bay region is the largest estuary in North America!
Are you curious what it’s like to drive the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel? Maybe you’re wondering:
- How long does it take to drive through the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel?
- Does it save any time?
- Is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge a toll road?
I’m going to answer those questions about the Chesapeake bridge and tunnel and discuss some of the history of this incredible scenic route in Virginia.
How Long Does It Take To Drive The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel?
Not to be confused with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is a total of 23 miles long from end to end — counting the bridges, tunnels, and approach spans.
It usually takes no more than 30 minutes or so to drive the entire Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel route.
Of course, traffic or accidents can slow things down considerably — but I’ve never experienced any delays driving this scenic route in Virginia.
Does Taking The Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Save Time?
The answer is it depends on where your starting point is and where your destination is.
The main way that driving the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (also known as Route 13) saves time is by taking it to travel between places like Virginia Beach or Norfolk and Philadelphia, New York City, or other places north.
Route 13 is a cut-through path that spares you from having to drive along I-64 to I-95 through the Washington, D.C. beltway and Baltimore area when driving north or south along the Eastern Seaboard to or from points in eastern Virginia.
However, if you’re driving from Florida to New York City (or vice-versa), the Chesapeake Bay tunnel and bridge are way off the beaten path.
The only way this scenic route may save you time for a trip that would ordinarily take you through places like Washington, D.C., and Baltimore is if you’re attempting to go through those metros during peak rush hour. It could also reduce your time if there’s a major incident along that stretch of I-95 that could set you back several hours.
For me, someone who enjoys taking road trips, I’ll take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel just for the sake of the scenic route along the Delmarva Peninsula shore. That’s the case even if I don’t have to travel through any part of eastern Virginia, eastern Maryland, or southern Delaware.
What’s It Like Traveling The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel?
I find it all around pretty enjoyable driving this scenic route along the Virginia shoreline.
Normally, however, I’ve driven it only during the milder months of spring, summer, or fall. I haven’t traveled this route during the winter in potentially icy conditions — which I’m sure is pretty scary.
Actually, the scariest part of driving this path is going through the 2-lane-wide, 2-way tunnels. It’s not the tunnels themselves that scare me. (Actually, that’s pretty fun!) But it’s driving through these narrow tunnels when there’s a lot of oncoming traffic — especially semi tractor-trailers — barreling toward me from the other direction.
Thankfully, this may not be going on for much longer…
There are plans in the works to build a new 2-lane-wide tunnel paralleling the existing tunnel on the south side of the route near Chesapeake Beach. Construction on the new Thimble Shoals tunnel began in October 2017 and will cost more than $750 million to build.
Otherwise, there are plenty of stunning views to enjoy along the path — with watery vastness stretching out all around virtually as far as the eyes can see. In fact, water is really just about all you can see when driving along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. When you’re in the middle of the bridge, only the sharpest eyes on the clearest days can see any hazy signs of land on the northern, southern, or western horizons!
Is The Chesapeake Tunnel A Toll Road?
Yes, you will need to pay a toll to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
As of this writing in late 2017, the toll for the Chesapeake Bay bridge and tunnel costs:
- $15 for a conventional 4-wheel passenger car during peak season (May 15 through September 15).
- $13 for the same standard passenger vehicle during off-peak season (every other time of the year that is not counted as peak season).
- Return trips within 24 hours are $3 during peak season and $5 during off-peak season.
Obviously, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel toll can change at any time, so I urge you to double-check with the CBBT toll schedule page before your trip.
TIP: There are discounts for those who use the E-Z Pass toll plan.
History Of The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel
Construction on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel started in 1960. The original 2-lane-wide stretch, which now mainly serves as the northbound span, opened on April 15, 1964.
It was soon named “One of the 7 Engineering Wonders of the Modern World,” earning the scenic Virginia highway international fame. More than 100 million vehicles have traversed the path since its opening.
Following years of studies, construction began on a parallel path for most of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (except for the tunnels themselves). This new addition opened to southbound traffic in 1999, turning most of the former 2-lane scenic route into a 4-lane highway.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel includes:
- 12 miles of low-level trestle bridge
- 2 1-mile-long tunnels
- 2 bridges
- 2 miles of causeways
- 5.5 miles of approach roads
All told, the path from end to end of the entire Chesapeake Bay bridge and tunnel complex is 23 miles.
And, let me tell you, it’s one scenic highway drive you won’t soon forget!
More Info On The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel
In addition to the links I’ve included above, here are some other resources to help you get a better feel of what the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is really like:
- Chesapeake Bay Bridge Weather Conditions
- The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Is Both Transportation & An Attraction
- Virginia Breaks Ground On Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Expansion
I’m a Florida native, a roller coaster junkie, and a frequent traveler. (Long road trips are my favorite.) Born and raised in Tampa, I grew up visiting Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. I authored the book Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: Images of Modern America, which details the colorful history of the Busch Gardens theme park. As a local historian, I’ve also written about other popular landmarks and attractions for a variety of publications. Here, on this Travel Guide, I like sharing little-known facts and fun stuff about all the places I’ve been — so you will have a good idea of what those places are like and what you should know before you go. I especially enjoy helping others plan fun trips… on a budget!