From the Archives
Policing a Man-Made Wonder of the World (June 1969)
By William C. Meyer
[Published in its original form]
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is located in one of the foremost historical and recreational areas of the Nation, a mecca for tourists from around the world. From Virginia Beach, with its miles of sandy beach and sport fishing fleets, to Richmond, Capital of the Confederacy; from Jamestown, first permanent English settlement, and Williamsburg, Colonial Capital of Virginia, to NASA’s Wallops Island, missile launch center—truly history meets the “Age of Tomorrow.”
The oldest brick home in North America, built in 1631, is near the southern terminus of our facility. A few miles from the northern terminus are stored the oldest continuous court records in the United States, dating from 1632. Ten major military installations are to be found within a radius of a few miles of our facility, including the Norfolk Naval Base, the world’s largest and headquarters for NATO’s Naval Command.
All of this presents our officers a distinct challenge and opportunity for service in describing these various points and directing travelers to them.
Widely acclaimed as an engineering masterpiece, this highway facility is 19.6 miles long and is composed of two tunnels, each burrowing under a major ship channel; four man-made islands, each 8 acres in area; two bridges; over 12 miles of trestle supported upon concrete pilings; causeways; and approach roads.
Established as an independent political subdivision by the Virginia General Assembly, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District includes not only the bridge-tunnel complex itself, but also nearly a square mile of beach, marsh, field, and forest.
The creation of a separate police agency within the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel District was authorized by the Virginia General Assembly in 1964. Subsequently, the security and tolls division was formed, with a table of organization providing 72 positions, all of which are filled by sworn police officers, with the exception of one secretary. Our police officers, male and female, are commissioned under the same section of the Virginia Code that applies to all political subdivisions within the Commonwealth; but the division is charged with duties beyond those normally associated with a law enforcement agency, including firefighting, wrecker operation, and toll collection. Additionally, our jurisdiction is unique because of its length and narrowness, being nearly 20 miles long and slightly more than 50 feet wide at its narrowest point.
Colonel William C. Meyer, Chief of Police, Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel District, Virginia.
Since ours is a toll facility, a toll plaza is located at each terminus. Each plaza is manned continuously by not less than three officers. Depending upon traffic volume and other factors, this number often is increased.
Similarly, each mile-long tunnel is manned by two patrolmen, one of whom is on standby in the emergency garage while the other conducts foot patrol in the tunnel, walking along a catwalk which extends from one end of the tunnel to the other. These men alternate their posts, usually on a 2-hour basis.
All tunnel patrolmen are thoroughly trained in the operation of the two emergency vehicles in each garage, a combination wrecker-firefighting unit and a 10-ton wrecker.
These tunnel patrolmen not only render service to patrons, but also support our maintenance division with traffic direction within the tunnels and on the tunnel approaches while necessary preventive maintenance is being accomplished.
In addition to the plaza and tunnel personnel, at least two distinctly marked units patrol the facility around the clock to enforce traffic regulations and other laws and to render service to any vehicle disabled by mechanical difficulty, tire failure, or lack of fuel. The patrol cars carry supplies of gasoline and water as well as a toolkit, hydraulic jacks, first aid kits, life preservers, highway fuses, camera kit, and other equipment. Each unit is manned by a single officer who is fully conversant with the multitude of duties he may have to perform, from directing traffic to accident investigation.
An officer observes traffic on one of the four man-made islands.
Records of all patron services rendered are maintained, primarily for statistical purposes. It is interesting that during 1964-65 we serviced an average of 1 in every 800 vehicles using the facility. During 1968, this ratio improved to 1 in 1,100 vehicles.
In spite of this improvement, our officers continue to note the lack of concern some motorists have for the mechanical condition of their automobiles. It is not uncommon for a patrolman to assist a vacationing family, often from a distant State, their vehicle filled with children and luggage, with a flat tire, no spare, and the three remaining tires worn beyond safe limits.
On a facility such as ours, as well as on any highway, a disabled vehicle is a distinct hazard. Rapid location and quick removal of the obstruction are vital to traffic safety and are major goals of our patrol activity.
The waters around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel facility are highly productive fishing grounds, and our patrolmen keep a constant watchful eye on the commercial and pleasure boats surrounding the facility, especially the pleasure craft which flock by the hundreds to fish along the trestles and around the four man-made islands. Occasionally, some of these watercraft have problems from mechanical failure, lack of fuel, or a plain lack of seamanship. In many cases, our officers have been able to render service by sounding the call for the U.S. Coast Guard. In other instances, the public address system, with which each patrol unit is equipped, has been useful in summoning other boats to the assistance of one in trouble.
Reliable communications play a vital role in making our facility convenient as well as safe. We have installed three separate communications systems: two-way radio and internal and external dial telephone systems.
The radio system links the control center with patrol units, emergency vehicles, official district cars, maintenance vehicles, and various strategic locations, such as the toll plazas, tunnel ventilation equipment buildings, the maintenance shops, and administration building.
Emergency phones are located every one-half mile on the trestled roadways and every 125 feet in the tunnels for use by motorists in need of assistance.
The internal telephone system connects all portions of the facility and is available to patrons for emergency use by means of phone boxes installed every one-half mile on the trestles and every 125 feet in the tunnels.
The external telephone system links the bridge-tunnel complex with the outside world and, through a system of extensions, provides a backup network for the internal telephone system.
We have never suffered a complete communication blackout, in spite of our facility having been struck once by a ship and twice by drifting barges. Although commercial telephones and electric service were severed, we maintained communications by radio with electrical power supplied by a network of emergency generators at strategic points. These generators supplied power for emergency lighting, heating, and communications for several days until commercial service was restored.
Service to the Public
Notwithstanding our emphasis upon service to the traveling public, law enforcement cannot be neglected. We realize that many motorists, awed by the experience of being surrounded by the majestic expanse of sea and sky, may forget good driving habits, and consequently we try to be lenient and understanding; but the deliberate, flagrant violator is not ignored. A fishing pier, restaurant, and scenic overlook produce occasional law enforcement situations.
A disabled vehicle is a distinct hazard, and rapid location and quick removal are major objectives of our patrol activity.
We have the option of bringing violators before either of two separate court jurisdictions. One is the city of Virginia Beach and the other, some 35 miles north, is Eastville in Northampton County. We usually take an out-of-State violator to the court which is in the direction of his travel. For instance, if a violator were traveling south, he would be referred to the city of Virginia Beach. If the violator is a resident of Virginia or of a reciprocal State, he may be released on a summons and directed to appear in that court most convenient to his residence in order that he not be required to pay an additional toll to appear in court.
We have an enviable motor vehicle safety record. It is not unusual for us to span several months each year without a single vehicle accident. In fact, our accident frequency decreased 18 percent in 1968 as compared with 1967. We attribute this record to our constant patrol methods and the parking of our patrol units at various locations in such a way that the traveling public may observe them from either direction for a considerable distance. In addition, at times during peak traffic periods, we park an unmanned, marked patrol car at various locations on the facility, and this we believe has a distinct effect on a large portion of the traveling public.
We know there are many pros and cons on the use of a warning notice for minor traffic violations by enforcement agencies; however, its use seems to be working very well for us. We keep a card file on each warning notice issued, and prior to an officer’s issuing a warning notice, he checks the name and license number with our police dispatcher on duty. To my knowledge, a previous recipient of a warning notice has never been stopped for another infraction on this facility. These warning notices are used primarily where a verbal warning would be sufficient. However, it is our opinion that many verbal warnings given by officers end in arguments and thus defeat the purpose for which the violator was originally stopped by the officer.
Training necessarily plays an important role in preparing our officers to carry out their duties in a confident and competent manner. In addition to general law and police subjects, all of our personnel receive the Red Cross Advanced Course in First Aid as well as instruction in the use of the oxygen resuscitator-inhalator. We also give instruction in emergency childbirth and the handling of demented persons. All male members of the division are trained in firefighting, particularly vehicular fires, but also they must learn how to handle structural fires, since they must provide fire protection to a dozen different buildings throughout the district, including the administration and maintenance complexes, a restaurant, and tunnel ventilation buildings. This phase of our training includes instruction in the use of fire proximity suits, self-contained breathing apparatus, and a variety of rescue equipment. A patrolman assigned to tunnel duty receives additional training in wrecker operation.
Naturally, our organization, being one of Virginia’s newer police agencies, could not have undertaken a serious training program without the generous assistance given to us by the Norfolk office of the FBI, the Virginia State Police, and the various city police departments of the Tidewater Virginia area. They have furnished us their training facilities as well as instructor for the varied police subjects taught in our own classes. Needless to say, we are most grateful.
Mr. J. Clyde Morris, Executive Director, Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel District.
From the Archives is a new department that features articles previously published throughout the 80-year history of the Bulletin. Topics include crime problems, police strategies, community issues, and personnel, among others. A link to an electronic version of the full issue will appear at the end of each article.