Monday, February 25, 2008

Water, water everywhere

Quick, name a state whose territory includes land that doesn't touch another part of the state.

Michigan, right? Of course, with the lower portion and the smaller, Upper Peninsula. Hawaii? Duh. Washington state? There's a tiny sliver of land called Point Roberts that is south of the 49th parallel - in the United States - accessible only by entering Canada or crossing a body of water. Same thing with the Northwest Angle in Minnesota.

How about Virginia? The main body of the Commonwealth is separated from the Eastern Shore by the Chesapeake Bay; the only way the two connect is via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 16-mile combination of bridges and tunnels that allow for both vehicle traffic and ocean-going vessels.

I like to think that we in Northern Virginia are affected by the waters around us as well. The Potomac serves as a natural boundary between D.C. and the Commonwealth and is the primary natural feature of the area.

But when I make the trip to Hampton Roads, as I did this weekend, I'm reminded that I'm woefully wrong.

One of the state's two wrestling tournaments was in town, which brought me there as well. I went straight to the site on Friday; the Magellan took me over the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, a smaller version of the CBBT. The longer way - one I had taken in years past - took me over the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. (You'll see that Wikipedia's list of bridge-tunnels mentions those three as the only bridge-tunnel combinations in the U.S. and nearly half of the worldwide total.)

Coming back from the site, I sat through miserable traffic in the downtown tunnel, which connects Norfolk to Portsmouth, where my hotel was.

Trying to get anywhere in that region seems to involve some major crossing of water. On Saturday, I went off the beaten path to Wood Chicks BBQ - well worth the trip, by the way - and stumbled upon a crossing over the Elizabeth River. Even on a mostly quiet two-lane road, there was a drawbridge over the river to allow for traffic.

When I was in the hotel, I had a great view from the 15th floor. Outside of my window was a look up the Elizabeth River and Norfolk and Portsmouth; at the elevator I took in a gorgeous view down the river. And just outside were a couple of paddleboats to ferry passengers between the two sides.

We have dinner boats in Alexandria, but nothing like that.

Struck in traffic at the Downtown Tunnel, I was struck by something the two areas shared: challenging traffic at times (though I'm sure they'd be willing to concede that our traffic is far worse) caused by too much water and not enough ways to cross it.

Unlike D.C., it's more understandable in Hampton Roads.

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