Bay Bridge Opening Party: Authorities Approve $5.6 Million Spending Plan

OAKLAND -- The Labor Day Bay Bridge bash is on.

The Bay Area Toll Authority unanimously signed onto a $5.6 million spending plan Wednesday for security, buses, ticketing and access so the public can walk the 6 miles from Oakland to San Francisco across the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge on the day before it opens to traffic.

Crowd control and location are the biggest cost drivers, staff told the authority.

Organizers say they need a timed ticketing system and tight access control to prevent a repeat of the near disastrous 1987 Golden Gate Bridge anniversary, where about 800,000 people flocked to the festivities and 300,000 of them crowded onto the span and flattened the suspended deck.

With the Bay Bridge toll plaza on the Oakland end located 3 1/2 miles from the nearest BART station, organizers will use 300 buses to transport an estimated 15,000 people per hour over an eight-hour period.

"We could have a lower budget, but if we want to invite the public, it will cost more," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, vice chairman of the toll authority. "I, for one, think it is money well spent. This is a monumental event in the Bay Area, and people will look back on it as a wonderful time."

The $6.4 billion new eastern span is the world's largest self-anchored suspension span and the most expensive public works project in California history. It will replace the existing bridge that opened to cars in November 1936 and which every seismic expert consulted has said will fail in the next big temblor.

Not everyone considers the new span a reason to party, though.

"This is craziness," Tina Herman of Dublin wrote in an email. "Just cut the darn ribbon and let people drive over the bridge. It is just a bridge. Long awaited at that."

Chuck Graham of Concord says the authority should charge the walkers $10 each for the rare opportunity.

"Why should the taxpayers pay for (portable toilets) and safety for the walkers?" he wrote in an email. "This is ridiculous."

While some folks are grumbling, no one at the public meeting held Wednesday morning in Oakland spoke against the plan from either the audience or the authority board, which consists of county and city elected officials. Board member and Contra Costa Supervisor Federal Glover voted yes.

More than 12,000 people have already registered their interest in participating at, and calls are running 2 to 1 in favor of the fete, authority spokesman Randy Rentschler told the board.

And Gov. Jerry Brown is definitely on board with the plan, despite the fact that he recently scuttled a $10 million bridge public relations contract as too expensive.

"Californians have a right to celebrate this incredible project by walking across the bridge," said Brown's press secretary Elizabeth Ashford. "BATA has chosen to spend these funds on security and restrooms so that everyone is safe and comfortable during the celebration. The public is excited about the opening festivities -- the incredible view of the bay that they'll enjoy on Labor Day is all the PR the new bridge needs."

At the urging of authority member and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, however, the authority did urge staff to diligently pursue additional donations that could help offset the costs.

A private foundation, the Bay Bridge Alliance, is already raising money for a privately financed fireworks show, a half- and full marathon and a cycling event. Toll dollars will be used for the public access related costs such as the timed ticketing system, barriers and access control, security, portable toilets, managing volunteers and buses.

The alliance and the authority have tapped Richmond-based event planning company Hartmann Studios, which produced San Francisco Giants parades and Oracle World.

Counting the bike ride, runs, bridge walk and fireworks show, Hartmann president and CEO Mark Guelfi estimates more than 500,000 people will participate. The tentative schedule includes:

Sunday, Sept. 1:

--Morning -- Cyclists ride from Oakland City Hall to San Francisco City Hall and back, or the reverse. Participants will pay an undetermined fee, with the proceeds going toward event production and fireworks costs.

--Afternoon -- Traditional opening ceremony at the foot of the self-anchored suspension tower with Gov. Brown, Oakland and San Francisco mayors, for about 3,000 people.

--Evening -- Large fireworks show visible from numerous vantage points such as Treasure Island, Port of Oakland, Emeryville and San Francisco. The show is privately funded, but toll money will cover access and security costs.

Monday, Sept. 2, Labor Day:

--Morning -- Half-marathon and 10K runs across the span from Oakland to San Francisco. Participants pay an undetermined fee, with the proceeds going toward event production and fireworks costs.

--Morning -- Starting with a traditional chain cutting ceremony modeled after the original 1936 opening, the bridge will open for the day to pedestrians.

Tickets for the walk will be free, but participants will be required to register online, print out a timed ticket, report to a specific Oakland BART station about 45 minutes before the designated start time and board one of the 60 buses headed to the Bay Bridge toll plaza.

It's a one-way trip -- allowing two-way travel would cut down on the number of people the bridge can accommodate throughout the day -- so pedestrians will need to return to the East Bay via BART or some other method.

If you poop out during the bridge stroll, need water or a potty stop, shuttles will run continuously across the span with bus stops every mile. Portable toilets and water will be available.

Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773,, or ___

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