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Machine that will drill mile-long hole for Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel gets a name

"Chessie" the Tunnel Boring Machine
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel machine is being built in Germany and should arrive in Hampton Roads in 2019. Area school kids got a chance to name the machine through a contest. Courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel commission.

Meet Chessie.

That’s the name of the new boring machine that will drill the mile-long hole for an expansion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

The name, chosen by an online contest, was submitted by Grace Bentley of Nandua Middle School in Onley on the Eastern Shore.


Chessie is a long-fabled sea monster said to live in the Chesapeake Bay. The legend stretches back more than 80 years with “sightings” really picking up in the 1980s. The monster was described as a long, snakelike creature that rolled through the waves.

“When the tunnel boring machine is digging into the ground, you can think of it like a sea monster,” Bentley said in her video submission.

The name has remained popular in the region, adorning boats, trains, trails and animals.


Chessie will be printed on the machine and visible during the launching ceremony in 2019.

Local sixth-graders submitted more than 120 names that were narrowed down to a top 10 for the online vote.


Tunnel boring machines often have a female name, a tradition that began when miners prayed to the patron saint of mines, Barbara, to protect them as they worked underground. The naming of the machine before beginning to work is a sign of good luck for the project ahead, CBBT officials said.

The names are often used to colloquially refer to the tunnel boring machines instead of using the long-winded engineering term. Seattle had “Bertha,” Los Angeles had “Harriet” and a Canadian machine was named “Big Becky.”

Prep work for the $756 million parallel tunnel has already begun on the island closest to Virginia Beach. The digging machine will begin there in 2019 and move northeast until it hits the second island. The project is set for completion in 2022.

The expansion project will provide safety and redundancy to the critical route between the Eastern Shore and Hampton Roads. Officials have worried that a major crash or disaster in a tunnel could sever the link.