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The Bay Bridge Lights project is tested late Wednesday evening, Feb. 27, 2013 in San Francisco. Artist Leo Villareal was in town working from dusk until midnight to prepare the light show for its big unveiling. (Karl Mondon/Staff)

A giant celebratory public walk across the Bay Bridge on Labor Day will be free to the public after all.

After debating for weeks about how to make the walk affordable to the public but not too expensive to taxpayers, a regional bridge toll panel has dropped the idea of a $5 fee for the 120,000 walkers expected to make the trek from Oakland to San Francisco.

The free walk is part of the festivities taking place over Labor Day weekend before the Sept. 3, opening of the $6.4 billion new east span of the bridge.

The cost of collecting fees would have eaten up much of the revenue collected -- especially if the agency were to carry out a demand by some political leaders to offer a discount to low-income walkers, said administrators at the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Given that advice, the toll authority oversight committee opted Wednesday not to act on the fee -- effectively letting it die.

Some transportation leaders have said walkers should pay to help defray the $5.6 million public cost of staging the stroll. The price tag includes costs for security, bathrooms and buses to ferry walkers from three BART stations to the bridge toll plaza.

Other officials said the walk should be free because the public already has paid dearly for a $6.4 billion bridge that cost far more than originally estimated.

Although they won't charge for the walk, they will make "efforts to raise donations to hold down the spending of public funds on the celebration," said Amy Worth, the toll authority chairwoman, who is an Orinda city councilwoman.


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While the toll authority has agreed to spend up to $5.6 million in bridge toll money on the walk, the agency will be reimbursed some of that if private fundraising for the bridge festivities is successful enough.

The nonprofit Bay Bridge Alliance has said it intends to raise at least $3.5 million to pay for a fireworks show and other festivities that weekend. The toll authority has asked the alliance to give it half of anything it raises over the $3.5 million.

An organized run and bicycle ride across the bridge also will be held that weekend, but fees will be charged for those events.

The walk will be limited to 120,000 people who sign up in advance to avoid excessive weight on the Bay Bridge.

Registration for the walk, run and bike ride has not begun yet, but people can register to sign up for a notification list by visiting www.baybridgecelebration.com.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.

bay bridge walk, run, ride
Visit www.baybridgecelebration.com to sign up for information on registration for a walk, run or bike ride across the Bay Bridge on Labor Day weekend. To sign up, click on walk, ride, or run at the top of the home page.