- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2005

A travel-safety group is opposing the 2006 Bay Bridge Walk, calling the event a “greedy government grab” that will create traffic, financial and security problems throughout the region.

The Citizen Advocates for Safe and Efficient Travel’s biggest concern is that the walk will crowd thousands of pedestrians into one spot, likely causing traffic backups and creating a prime target for a terrorist attack.

“The irony of the announcement [of the 2006 walk] is that it was made on the same day as the second round of terrorism that was unfolding in London,” said Chuck Jackson, the group’s president. “While it’s difficult to predict events of the coming year, I think it’s a safe bet that security alerts are going to remain high, and our vigilance could also be of concern.”

Officials for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which hosts the annual 4.3-mile walk, agrees that security is important and have spent additional money.

This year’s walk was canceled due to construction on the bridge’s westbound lanes, though concern about the cost of preventing a terrorist attack also was a factor, said Trent M. Kittleman, the agency’s executive secretary.

“But we are not going to allow the terrorists who injure our lifestyle to keep us from doing those things that are fun,” Mrs. Kittleman said. “We won’t be silly about it. We will have adequate security.”

She also said the walk along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge — officially known as the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge — is a Maryland tradition that brings in tourism money.

The 2006 walk will mark the 300th anniversary of the Port of Baltimore and will coincide with the Volvo Ocean Race, whose participants will sail under the bridge as people walk across the span.

For the bridge walk in 2004, the first year the event was held after the September 11 terrorist attacks, officials spent $400,000 on security, which was $150,000 more than in previous years, Mrs. Kittleman said. More than 300 police, transportation and government officials patrolled the event, she said.

The event began in 1975 and allows 20,000 to 50,000 walkers to catch an otherwise inaccessible glimpse of the Chesapeake Bay. It was canceled in 2002 because of rain and in 2003 due to a heightened security alerts.

Still, the safety group says the May 7, 2006, walk will clog U.S. Route 50 and close the bridge’s two eastbound lanes for roughly 12 hours, forcing two-way traffic onto the three westbound lanes.

Mr. Jackson said the move is “silly” and would “dramatically” increase the risk of a head-on collision, especially with traffic going 50 mph or faster.

“The only thing separating that span of 80 feet above the water is a double yellow line,” he said.

Mr. Jackson also said officials are putting safety concerns behind the revenue they will receive from tourists visiting the Volvo race.

State transportation officials reported four vehicular collisions on the westbound bridge during bridge walks since 1994 — one each in 1997 and 2000, and two in 2001.

There have been few complaints about traffic delays during bridge walks because most residents understand that it’s held the first Sunday in May, Mrs. Kittleman said.

However, officials said they will meet throughout the coming year to re-evaluate whether the walk should be held every two years to offset yearly costs.

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