OAKLAND -- A big walk across the Bay Bridge will happen on Labor Day as planned, but transportation leaders can't decide if the public should pay to play.
Members of the Bay Area Toll Authority agreed Wednesday to allocate $5.6 million in bridge toll money so the public can walk across the Bay Bridge a day before the new east span opens to vehicles. But officials couldn't decide whether to charge walkers to help cover costs.
Some on the regional panel said it would be unfair to charge any fee when the new east span is being financed with $6.4 billion in public funds, a figure much larger than the original estimates.
"I oppose charging anyone a dime to go (walk) across the bridge," said Solano County
Others, however, said making pedestrians pay a $5 fee to trek from Oakland to San Francisco is a reasonable way to defray some of the $5.6 million public cost of overseeing the walk.
"It's a lot of money," said San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier. "I think we need to reduce the burden on public funds."
Tissier suggested a $5 fee per walker, a charge many times lower than participants will pay for an organized bike ride and run across the bridge over the same Labor Day weekend.
The walk will be limited to the first 120,000 or so people who sign up in advance for the event. At $5 per walker, that would raise
Sam Liccardo, San Jose's representative on the authority, said charging a fee could insulate the agency from criticism that it is spending $5 million to "throw a party."
Liccardo, who voted against spending the money on the celebration, said he was unhappy the event is being financed with public funds rather than private donations.
Other members expressed fears that even a modest fee would be a burden for low-income families.
With no easy agreement in reach, the panel of city and county officials agreed to postpone the fee decision for a month.
The authority found a much easier time agreeing Wednesday to spend up to $5.6 million for security, crowd control, reservation management and other costs associated with organizing the bridge walk. The biggest cost is for buses to shuttle walkers to the Oakland toll plaza to start the walk at reserved times.
Toll authority members said the walk would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate the historic event of opening the new east span.
The entire bridge must be closed from 8 p.m. Aug. 28 to 5 a.m. Sept. 3 for the final work needed to open it.
Bridge managers said they are limiting the number of walkers to avoid a repeat of a troubling 1987 public walk across the Golden Gate Bridge that was so crowded it flattened out the suspended deck.
A private foundation called the Bay Bridge Alliance is raising funds to finance a fireworks show, marathon and half-marathon runs and a bike ride across the bridge over Labor Day weekend.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.