You could almost hear the gnashing of teeth two months ago when the Bay Area Toll Authority pulled the plug on a celebration to mark the opening of the new Bay Bridge. It seemed like such a wonderful way to squander $5.6 million.
There would have been chartered buses delivering thousands of visitors. There would have been lavish ceremonies, with the Highway Patrol managing the crowd. There would have been fireworks and music and backslaps all around.
It's so rare that we get a chance to celebrate what dreamers can accomplish when they're allowed to blow their deadline by 10 years and come in $5 billion over budget.
Uncertainty about the opening date forced the cancellation of the event -- curse those hydrogen-embrittled bolts -- and denied everyone a party. That's why I staged my own celebration Tuesday when the bicycle and pedestrian path opened.
I left no detail to chance. I found a ribbon for cutting in our Christmas wrapping box and a pair of scissors in a kitchen drawer. (I know bridges call for chains, but my acetylene torch has been acting up.) I uploaded fireworks and marching band videos from YouTube onto my smartphone. I invited a friend along to celebrate.
My expenses were a little less than the toll authority budgeted -- about $9 for gasoline -- and fireworks lose some of their pizazz on a 3-inch screen, but all in all the outing was a success. I enjoyed up-close views of the bay and the earthquake-proof bridge that's been promised since the last big one.
Most people know the new skyway is 1.2 miles long and the suspension tower is 525 feet high, but how many know the pedestrian walkway is quieter than the one on the Golden Gate? There's a grated buffer separating the roadway and path that helps absorb the noise.
You might already know that the new east span has 273 light poles and 1,521 light fixtures, but did you know there's not one trash receptacle along its length? I learned this after I chomped on an apple and was left holding the core. I put it in my pocket until I got back to the car.
That brings up an important tidbit for bridge walkers to come. The closest parking to the pedestrian entrance is near the intersection of Maritime Street and Burma Road in Oakland. That leaves a 1.7-mile trek to the entrance. So prepare for a two-part hike. Comfortable shoes and Advil are recommended.
Dozens of pedestrians and bikers helped me baptize the bridge on Tuesday. Several pushed strollers. A few brought dogs. One solemn-looking group carried a wooden crucifix (I was afraid to ask). Two women captured their visit on video, taking turns holding a homemade sign that read: "We Love Our Bridge."
See, that $6.4 billion wasn't wasted.
One sight that beckoned for everyone's attention, perhaps 50 yards away, was the old bridge -- empty, forgotten and forlorn alongside its successor. That's the thanks it gets for 77 years of faithful service.
The reward for those who made it to the end of the path was a cyclone fence with a "no trespassing" sign blocking progress past the western end of suspension bridge. You see, a portion of the old bridge will have to be removed before the path can be completed to Yerba Buena Island.
When that happens -- probably in 2015 -- I have a plan in mind. I'm thinking of having another $9 celebration.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.