Open-access content 23rd February 2009
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world.
26 February 2009
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world. It runs for 17.6 miles across the mouth of the Chesapeake estuary, where the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers meet the sea, south of Washington DC. It was built to connect the quiet eastern shore of Virginia with the rest of the state, from which it would otherwise, rather bizarrely, be separated by Maryland and a 95-mile drive round the bay via the American capital.
The bridge does a remarkable job quite unspectacularly. For most of its length the bridge is a flat roadway sitting on stilts a few metres above the tideway. Three times in its course it slips into short tunnels beneath shipping lanes, emerging to proceed inconspicuously across what looks like open sea. Only at its northern end does it have a short gracefully arched section.
Compared to other great bridges - our own Humber Bridge or the Millau Viaduct - the Chesapeake really doesn't look anything special, and certainly isn't architecturally distinguished. Nonetheless, it carries large amounts of traffic safely, withstands hurricanes and the worst sea conditions, and is something of a tourist attraction. Few people outside the eastern USA have, I suspect, ever heard of it.
It seems to me that FM has much in common with this bridge: not just the quiet achievement of difficult objectives, but a totally self-effacing approach to promoting those achievements. Quite why FM is like this is a mystery to many of us: after all, without the FM professionals most industry and service organisations would come to a halt faster than the British economy in a credit crunch. Of course, most people may think that there is nothing about mere functional effectiveness to set the pulse racing but, like this bridge, there is actually something quite heroic about the achievements of facilities managers, often in the face of indifference and occasionally withstanding crises as acute in their own way as any hurricane.
So, if you think you don't get the acknowledgement you deserve, take a look online at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at www.cbbt.com and remind yourself how well you perform, even if no one else sees it.