It is a Waddell & Harrington vertical lift drawbridge and was designed by Harrington, Howard, & Ash (engineers) of Kansas City, Missouri. It construction was planned and financing organized by South Norfolk businessman Carl M. Jordan, who operated Jordan Brothers Lumber Co. with his brother Wallace. The Jordans brought lumber from the Great Dismal Swamp to their mill in South Norfolk, and had come to believe that the existing Norfolk County Ferry Service was not dependable enough for the needs of their business, or others in the community.
The bridge was renamed for Carl Jordan many years later. Carl Jordan also served as general manager and executive vice president of the South Norfolk Bridge Commission, Inc., a non-profit corporation organized to manage the bridge in 1944. Ownership of the bridge was transferred to the City of Chesapeake after the Bridge Commission's indebtedness was finally satisfied in 1977.
The Jordan Bridge has been struck by ships many times. On June 2, 1939, an oil tanker struck it, and the east tower and lift span collapsed into the river, injuring two bridge employees, and closing it for more than 6 months. Another major collision of a ship occurred on June 13, 1943.
In more recent years, there have been periodic problems with the lift mechanism in addition to occasional collisions, the most recent in January, 2004. The Jordan Bridge is the oldest drawbridge in Virginia. Currently operated by the City of Chesapeake's Department of Public Works, it has a restricted weight limit of 3 tons. Daily toll revenue is approximately $5,000. The toll (collected on the Chesapeake side) for both direction is 50 cents for motorcycles, 75 cents for two axle vehicles, $1.00 for three axles and $1.25 for four axles. There are no facilities for electronic toll collection (neither E-ZPass nor Smart Tag is accepted on the Jordan Bridge). According to city officials, there are no funding sources currently identified to replace the bridge when it eventually decays beyond repair.
City of Chesapeake officials have stated that replacing the bridge is not being considered. Cost estimates linger in the $200 million range, too much for a bridge that carries about 7,500 vehicles daily and far fewer on weekends. Motorists pay a 75-cent toll that is used to pay for repairs.
On August 19, 2008, Chesapeake's City Manager William Harrell announced his recommendation that the bridge be permanently closed by the end of the year. The alternative would be an expenditure of $4 million in repairs to the bridge's aging deck and beams within the next year, and an additional $13 million in repairs within the next 10 years.
City officials said the cost to permanently remove the bridge will be $2.3 million. Harrell said "the city cannot handle all of the transportation demands before us."
In the early 21st century, the Hampton Roads region of Virginia has faced increasing transportation challenges as it has become largely urbanized, with additional traffic needs, and as infrastructure originally built with toll revenues has aged without a source of funding to repair them or build replacements. The Jordan Bridge and the now-closed Kings Highway Bridge in neighboring Suffolk, each built in the 1920s, are considered locally prime examples of this situation. The cost of a new bridge at either crossing is estimated to be far more than could be recovered through collection of tolls at these locations.
Leaders in Virginia are currently actively discussing unfunded transportation needs, particularly in the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions. In Hampton Roads, the possibility of collecting new tolls on certain major facilities (other than the Jordan Bridge) which are currently not tolled is a source of major funding under active consideration as of 2008.
The Hampton Roads Transportation Authority (HRTA) was created in July 2007 after enabling legislation was passed the Virginia General Assembly and the required number of localities approved. However, replacements for the Kings Highway and Jordan bridges are not among the proposed HRTA projects. Further stymieing efforts to raise funds, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that most of the taxing provisions of the HRTA legislation were unconstitutional.
A special session of the Virginia General Assembly convened in June 2008 failed to generate any solutions.