- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

RICHMOND Keepers of the 17.6-mile system of bridges and tunnels linking Virginia's Eastern Shore to Hampton Roads across the strategically vital mouth of Chesapeake Bay must better guard against sabotage, a legislative report says.
The first review of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) since the span opened 38 years ago calls security for the facility inadequate.
Stretched across the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean just miles from the world's largest naval base at Norfolk and other military installations, the span could be vulnerable to terrorists, the report said.
While the bridge tunnel has a readiness plan for terrorist attacks, "it is not a substitute for a comprehensive security plan," and observations of the bridge found that physical security there was minimal, the report said.
Unlike two neighboring bridge-tunnel systems the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel the Chesapeake Bay span lacks video surveillance cameras in its tunnels, the report said.
The tunnels take traffic beneath sea lanes used by international shipping entering and leaving the Hampton Roads ports and U.S. aircraft carriers and other warships.
Delegate Leo C. Wardrup Jr., a former Navy officer and a member of the commission, which acts as the General Assembly's investigative arm, said guarding the span is daunting.
"The physical security of a facility that has 17.6 miles exposed to the Atlantic Ocean is very difficult," said Mr. Wardrup, Virginia Beach Republican. He noted that sport and commercial anglers cluster near the massive concrete pilings supporting the bridge because of excellent fishing there.
James K. Brookshire Jr., executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel (CBBT) District, said that officers who continuously prowl the parallel bridge spans are able to monitor what is happening beneath them.
"If we see something out there that concerns us, we can tell them to move away, but you can't just run off all the fishing boats," he said.
The report, however, said the district has "not taken prudent steps to protect and secure the facility from potential sabotage" and noted that several employees said there was no way to prevent it. JLARC staff spotted lax security for themselves, noting that the public had unfettered access to tunnel islands and even toll plaza operational areas.
The presence of CBBT police officers in the toll plazas probably deters robberies at toll booths, "but there is minimal police presence on the facility, and only periodic patrol of the tunnels by emergency crew workers. Currently, security for the ventilation buildings consists of ensuring that the exterior doors are locked."
The report recommends hiring a security consultant and suggests the CBBT district require background checks of contract workers with access to toll plaza operations areas and buildings that house equipment that ventilates the tunnels. It also recommended curbing access to four islands that house entrances and exits to the two tunnel spans, plaza buildings and maintenance facilities.
"We have a terrorism plan that's in the works, but it's not completed yet," said Worthy Pegram, chairman of the CBBT commission.
Hostile powers, however, aren't the only security problem. Speeding is rampant, the study found, especially since the bridge went from two lanes to four in 1999, with many violators clocked 20 mph or more over the 55-mph limit and cited for reckless driving.
The number of reckless-driving summonses issued on the span increased from 428 in 1994 to 2,030 in 2000, with some motorists topping 100 mph on the flat bridge straightaway.
"The record was 132 [mph]," said JLARC's Glenn S. Tittermary.
Finding open lanes will become more difficult, and parallel tunnels may be needed to handle the additional traffic by 2020.
Existing tunnels accommodate only two lanes each in opposing directions and the bottlenecks could become unmanageable, especially during the July and August peak vacation months, the report said.
When traffic reaches 330,000 cars per month, the flow becomes unstable and lines form, Mr. Tittermary said. By 2020, the load could peak at slightly more than 500,000 cars a month in midsummer, and top 515,000 in those months by 2025.
Present tolls would be insufficient to finance parallel tunnels, the audit showed. That would require an increase in the tolls, which now range from $10 one way for a passenger car to $36 for a six-axle truck.
Deciding whether to double tunnel capacity would heighten a vigorous debate between forces who want tolls lowered to ease transportation to the Eastern Shore and encourage development and forces that want development discouraged to protect the bucolic lifestyle and environment of the largely agricultural Eastern Shore.


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