Driving over a bridge, especially a long one, can be a beautiful experience. Take the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which is a narrow strait where the San Francisco Bay opens to meet the Pacific ocean. It’s hard to imagine a more scenic or iconic view.
But for many others, especially those who have been in San Francisco during an earthquake, the thought of driving across a long bridge or getting stuck on it in traffic can be quite terrifying.
If you’re scared by the thought of being in a car on a high, long bridge, then here’s one that you should definitely avoid—the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It’s been referred to as “America’s Scariest Bridge.”
Here’s why it has acquired this title.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge isn’t the highest or longest in the United States, but it’s plenty terrifying. This massive bridge, whose first span was built in 1952, connects the Washington, D.C.-Annapolis-Baltimore metropolitan area, with a combined population of almost 10 million people.
Before the bridge was built, cars would drive onto ferries that would take them across. However, only 50 to 60 cars could fit on the boats, so travel time was significantly longer than it is now.
What makes the bridge so scary is a unique combination of the traffic, the height, the length, and the view.
The bridge is nearly 200 feet high at its tallest and over 4 miles long. Because the bridge is so old, all the structural elements, including the exposed metal beams that hold it up, are visible. In addition to this, the barriers on the side are incredibly low, meaning drivers can see right over the side to the bay below, which is up to 100 feet deep in some spots.
Since the Bay Bridge was built such a long time ago, there’s no provision for a shoulder. If you have a flat tire or your car breaks down, you’re stuck right in the middle of traffic. Combining all these factors together leads to a recipe for panic. The other issues that drivers passing over the bridge have to face are due to its location. As it connects the Washington, D.C., metro area with the popular beaches of Maryland and Delaware, this means that during the summer season and on weekends it can be incredibly jammed. If there is an accident on the heavily trafficked I-95, then drivers tend to use the Chesapeake Bridge instead, adding to more traffic.
Last but not least, the Chesapeake Bay is known for its violent storms and has even suffered from passing hurricanes. When that happens, being on the bridge, which is so open and exposed, can be particularly terrifying.
In fact, so many people who have bridge phobia (gephyrophobia) are triggered by the structure that many drive-over services have sprung up to cater to them. The Kent Island Express company is one such service that provides a driver who can take the wheel so you don’t have to.
As their website explains: “Nervous about crossing over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge? If so, you’re not alone. Our Bay Bridge Drive-Over Help will let you relax and enjoy the ride and the view!”
The service is extremely popular, especially among people who have recurring visions of bridges bending and collapsing. Terri Robinson of Kent Island Express told the Washingtonian the service isn’t just for anxious people. “We’ve taken airline pilots, race boat drivers, policemen, firefighters. We took a couple who were both in the Navy—neither could drive over the bridge,” he said.
Robinson’s passengers often tell him, “I feel like I’m going to fall off the earth.” While he isn’t afraid of the bridge, he knows the terror it can strike into passengers and tries to keep them as calm as possible.
While many of America’s long-span bridges over water strike fear into the hearts of drivers, there’s none quite like the Chesapeake that can bring the scared kid in all of u.s. out.