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Annual Md. bridge walk canceled — again

- - Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Economic concerns have caused Maryland officials to cancel the popular Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk for the seventh straight year.

The bridge is currently undergoing a preservation project that includes painting the westbound span as well as ongoing maintenance on the suspension cables. But that's not the main reason officials are canceling the popular event, long embraced by athletes and sightseers alike.

"Since Sept. 11, the cost has clearly and significantly increased as a security aspect, costing approximately $500,000 to do a Bay Bridge walk," said Kelly Melhem, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Each spring, on the first Sunday in May, officials closed the eastbound bridge span to vehicle traffic. Participants would be shuttled from locations in Anne Arundel County to the start of the walk, then back from the east end of the bridge, officially known as the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge.

The westbound span opened in 1973 and the 4.5 mile walk began in 1975. Sponsored by the transportation authority, it drew up to 40,000 participants and was last held in 2006. The walk had been canceled in recent years due to bad weather and bridge renovation, but officials now say the security required for the event has become too expensive.

That doesn't mean the public won't have an opportunity to cross the bridge on foot again. The transportation authority and Queen Anne's County signed a memorandum of agreement last week with a company called Chesapeake Bay Bridge Run LLC to host a 10K run that will take place on the bridge in November 2014.

The run, including the security costs, will be funded by the company, which will pay for the event through sponsorship and registration fees.

Sparrow Rogers, co-managing partner of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Run LLC, said the run will be completely separate from the walk, calling it a high-profile athletic event where everyone has a set time to be off the bridge. And although this event is vastly different from before, walkers are still welcome to come, but the atmosphere will be more competitive than scenic.

Most of all, organizers want to make the bridge run into a special event.

"We hope to build the best 10K in the world and we think we have the most beautiful course anywhere," Ms. Rogers said. "MDTA handed the baton to us so we will take the responsibility of treating the bridge with respect."