Folks in Hampton Roads are mighty proud of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that bridges the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay from Virginia Beach to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They call it things like “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” which seems like so much hyperbole.
Until you drive across it. I did that while in the area on vacation once in 1991 and just fell in love with the CBBT — and the entire region. That’s one reason we leaped at the chance to move to Virginia Beach 11 years ago.
These pictures are from the last crossing I made, back in 2009. Most of the project is actually a causeway, suspended just a few feet above the water. At two points, though, you land on a tiny manmade island and then drive through the island…
…and under one of three major shipping channels…
…to emerge through another manmade island and back into the causeway.
This is looking across one of those channels, with the roadway below those rocks and linking up with the island in the distance.
That was a particularly quiet morning. It’s not unusual to see giant container ships or even aircraft carriers scurrying though those waters.
The bridge-tunnel turns 50 today (Tuesday, April 15). To commemorate this, the Virginian-Pilot ran a huge story Sunday recounting the construction of this massive project.
Click that — or any page here today — for a much larger look.
The print version of the story — written by the Pilot‘s Dave Forster — was illustrated with vintage file photos of enormous devices built especially for the project.
The sections of tunnel — or “tube” — were actually built in Texas and then shipped to the area via barge. The picture at the bottom of that page shows what it was like after the sections were assembled but before ventilation apparati and the roadbed were installed.
Here’s a double-page spread.
In particular, I love the timeline across the top featuring a profile of the bridge.
I also like this picture of the Village People.
Oh, wait. Those were construction workers. My bad.
Also my bad: Failing to ask who designed this.
As soon as I find out, I’ll add it here. It was the amazing Sam Hundley.
As nice as all that is, the highlight of Sunday’s presentation was, perhaps, this full-page graphic drawn by my old colleague Bob Voros. Again, click this for a much larger look:
As he does from time to time, Bob documented his process and was kind enough to share it with us.
When I got this assignment, my first thought was to find examples of graphics that others have done on bridges, tunnels and similar type of construction projects. So I started to search at the NewsPageDesigners website for infographics that were tagged with bridge, tunnel, construction, etc. and downloaded any that I thought would be useful to get an idea from. Then I did a Google image search to see if there was anything else that might pop up that would be helpful.
Here are some examples of what I found:
All are wonderful graphics. Even the ones that I couldn’t read because they weren’t in English.
My next step was to watch these two DVDs on the construction of the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel:
The DVD on the left is very dated — it was originally produced as the project was being built in the early 1960s. It has the grainy footage and monotone narration that took at least three cups of coffee to get through.
But the DVD on the right was much more helpful. It’s one of the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” series, back when the History Channel had shows about history.
The first time I viewed this was just to see what was on it: I realized I was going to get a lot of information for the graphic from it. I watched it a second time more carefully, paying attention to what images I might need to capture — which I did on the third viewing.
Then, I watched it one last time to take specific notes:
Now, I usually start making some rough sketches at this point but I didn’t get the DVDs until later on in the process. I did have a brief meeting with reporter Dave Forster, his editor Carl Fincke and our presentation team leader, Paul Nelson, before this where Dave generally laid out how the CBBT was constructed 50 years ago. He made the point that there were three machines that were key to the construction process – The Big D, The Two-Headed Monster and The Slab Setter. I needed to show all of them, a map of the CBBT and how the tunnels and islands that the bridges that make up the project were constructed.
So really, I only did one sketch:
I decided the first thing I should put together was the satellite aerial photo map that would go on the right side of the graphic. I used aerial images from Bing, pasting screen shots together in Photoshop.
Here’s what that looked like:
The image is bigger than I needed, because there was talk of showing where the other two bridge-tunnels in the region are located in relation to the CBBT. That idea was dropped, but not until after I layered all of this Photoshop. Oh, well…
The next step was to start drawing some of the objects to be used in the graphic. I downloaded a PDF from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District website – – that had a page on major components and structures. I used this and other diagrams and images I had captured off the DVDs to draw all the elements I would need to be in the graphic:
Here’s what the graphic looked like early on before some of the elements were drawn…
…and here it is later on in the process:
As you can see, I moved the waterline down a bit and placed the circle diagrams that focused on the construction of the piles and roadway above it.
While working on this, I realized that the pilings are basically the backbone of the CBBT. The project would have failed if the first step of constructing nearly 15 miles of low-level trestle roadway could not be achieved.
Basically, all that was left at this point was fine-tuning all the illustrations and writing the copy to fit and then to get everything copy-edited.
Here, again, is the final version:
Some of the big numbers were changed: I had initially totaled up costs and other figures for the original CBBT construction in the early 1960s and that of the parallel crossing construction done in the late 1990s. It was decided to focus on the original construction totals only for the big numbers with the parallel crossing figures noted below them.
The online version of the story features not only Dave’s story, but also pictures by L. Todd Spencer and a video by the Pilot‘s Brian J. Clark. Find all that here.
(Oh, and here’s a tip for those of you who are burned out on nasty comments on stories: When you’re done reading that and watching the lovely videos, keep scrolling to the end. There are several wonderful comments from readers who had family connections to the construction and administration staff of the CBBT project.)
A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Bob Voros is a 1989 graduate of the State University of New York at Oswego. He spent five years at the Syracuse Post-Standard and two more at the San Antonio Light before joining the Pilot in 1993.
Bob gets frequent mention in my slideshows and here in the blog, because a) I’ve worked with him closely and b) because I appreciate how thorough he is with his work. You won’t find a better visual journalist anywhere, period.
A few other posts in which I’ve showcased his work:
- January 2011: Step-by-step through a complex megagraphic with Bob Voros
- January 2012: Virginian-Pilot plays horrific story, heartbreaking picture, above today’s nameplate
- March 2012: The 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Ironclads
- April 2012: How the Virginian-Pilot covered Friday’s Navy jet crash
- April 2012: An extraordinary diagram to help explain an extraordinary event
- August 2012: Bob Voros on why AP graphics needs a copy editor
- August 2012: The Virginian-Pilot’s annual Fantasy Football preview guide
- September 2013: Friday’s UFO reports explained, five days in advance
Find Bob’s portfolio here and his Twitter feed here.
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