Bridge walk is canceled

THE BALTIMORE SUN

State transportation officials have decided to cancel this spring's Bay Bridge Walk and say they will re-evaluate the practice of setting aside one Sunday a year to let people cross the 4.3-mile span on foot.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the popular May event - which draws tens of thousands of visitors from all Maryland, the District of Columbia and surrounding states - will be held again. But it's not clear when.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see it in 2006, but I wouldn't want to prejudge the decision," Flanagan said. He said the Maryland Transportation Authority, which he heads, will decide how often to let pedestrians get a gull's-eye view of the bay.

Flanagan said the high cost of providing security in the post-Sept. 11 era was one of the reasons for the decision to cancel this year's walk across one of the bridge's two spans. Another reason, he said, was the inconvenience to motorists who could get caught in the resulting backups on the span that remains open for two-way traffic.

Construction work on the westbound span - already impeded by cracked cement that made it necessary to redo more than $7 million in paving - was also a factor, Flanagan said.

The Bay Bridge Walk, which started in 1975, had been an annual event though 2001 with the exception of a weather-related cancellation in 1980. In years of good weather, the event has attracted 40,000 to 60,000 on foot, in strollers and in wheelchairs.

Weather again caused the event to be canceled in 2002, and in 2003 the authority decided, with three weeks' notice, to forgo the walk because it would have diverted resources from homeland security efforts.

The walk resumed under enhanced security last year despite bridge reconstruction work. It drew about 20,000 participants in cool, rainy weather. Among those who stopped by to say hello: Flanagan's boss, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Flanagan said the agency recognizes that the walk is a Maryland tradition enjoyed by thousands. "That enjoyment and pleasure needs to be balanced by other considerations that are problematic," he said.

Flanagan said security for the walk costs $250,000 to $400,000 and is putting an increasing burden on motorists.

"As time has gone on, more and more people take that weekend trip to the beach and the Eastern Shore," he said. "We're getting more and more traffic congestion in the spring and fall months."

The decision disappointed Gail Smith of Odenton. Smith, 45, said she walks the bridge every year the event is held. She likes to pack a lunch and eat it at the height of the span - 186 feet above the bay.

"My kids are 7 and 8 now, and I took them when they were inside me, and I've taken them in strollers," she said. "It's a tradition for a lot of families."

Smith, who works on Kent Island, said she doesn't see the bay walk as a traffic issue.

"It's never been backed up to where it's ridiculous," she said.

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