SFBayBridge.jpgPlans that include millions of taxpayer dollars for the opening celebrations this September for the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge were pushed forward this morning by a Bay Area Toll Authority committee.

The BATA Oversight Committee unanimously approved a $5.6 million contract to organize private-public funded events at the opening of the bridge this September, which includes a walk, bike ride and half-marathon race across the bridge and a fireworks display.

The full Bay Area Toll Authority board will give the final say at a Feb. 27 meeting about the contract with Richmond-based firm Hartmann Studio to organize services for the event.

The $5.6 million plan would cover transportation, operations and public safety costs during the day-and-a-half Labor Day weekend celebratory extravaganza on Sept. 1 and 2.

The Bay Bridge Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed in 2011 that, in part, aims to support the opening of the new Eastern span, is funding free public events and other fee-based activities.

MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler said the BBA has already secured several million dollars that will go toward festivities, such as fireworks and a light display visible from the East Bay and San Francisco eastern waterfront on the night of Sept. 1.

If more private sector funding is brought in, the BBA has plans to hold a larger celebration similar to the Oracle OpenWorld music festival held on Treasure Island last year.

The BBA is organizing a bridge bike ride on the morning of Sept. 1, with participants paying a fee to register and ride from the Oakland side and back, or a concurrent route from San Francisco and back.

On Sept. 2, a fee-based half-marathon from Oakland City Hall to San Francisco City Hall and a 10K running course put together by the BBA would be held early Labor Day morning, followed by a chain-cutting ceremony — a tradition in the bridge-building industry, Rentschler said.

Fees from the bicycle ride and runs aim to bring in additional support that the BBA would put toward the firework show and other opening f??tes such as a Sept. 1 dedication ceremony at the newly-erected self-anchored suspension tower that the governor, local mayors and other dignitaries are invited to attend.

The public bridge walk would set off starting at 8:30 a.m. and run until 6:30 p.m. with Hartmann Studios facilitating transportation and ticketing starting in Oakland and heading into San Francisco.

Participants comprising of up to 15,000 walkers per hour would register for free tickets for a time slot for pick up at an Oakland BART station where shuttle buses would deliver passengers to the Oakland base of the bridge.

Waves of groups would walk the length of the bridge, about 6 miles long, with an anticipated 125,000 participants making it across throughout the day.

There will be 300 buses dropping off participants every hour.

The walk will head westbound on five lanes of the bridge, with participants able to return on BART, which will provide extra transit service.

Rentschler said preparations are being worked out with Caltrans to assure that the density of people will be safe on the bridge and that there is traffic control in the surrounding areas during the walk.

A large portion of the $5.6 million for the walk and surrounding events will go toward buses, setting up temporary bus depots, staffing event organizers and medical and sanitation personnel and equipment.

Nearly $1 million of the budget is for contingency plans and organizers hope it will be slashed come September.

BATA Oversight Committee vice chair and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates shared his support for the large-scale public events as part of the opening.

“This will be a monumental event in the Bay Area,” Bates said this morning.

Some commissioners aired concerns about the festivities including the high cost relying on toll funds and limitations on the number of people able to participate in the bridge walk.

Rentschler conceded that planning for the opening is running against the clock.

“In a perfect world we would have had recommendations six months ago,” he said.

Despite some planning, cost and logistical concerns, the committee unanimously approved the contract.

The opening events will follow a four-day construction closure starting at 8 p.m. on Aug. 28 to realign the Oakland approach to the new span. That will require paving and lane striping, as well as demolition of a portion of the upper deck of the existing bridge, Rentschler said.

The bridge is expected to be open to traffic no later than 5 a.m. on Sept. 3.

The new $6.3 billion section of the bridge includes a self-anchored suspension span, which covers a 2,047 feet of the bridge east of Yerba Buena Island.

More information about the Bay Bridge opening is available at http://www.baybridgecelebration.com.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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