Imagine you are handling a long-overdue project funded with other peoples' money that is finally being finished. It is years late and coming in at nearly six times original cost estimates. How would you handle that?
Now imagine that project is the reconstruction of the eastern span of the Bay Bridge and that you are the Bay Area Toll Authority -- which is really just the alter ego of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. In that case, apparently, you would throw a party, complete with fireworks, that could cost up to $12 million. Not only that, you quite naturally would send the bill for about half of it -- a cool $5.6 million -- to the people who paid for the thing in the first place.
Tough economic times? Balderdash. Not for BATA and MTC; there is plenty of dough, so come on, let's party.
Alas, this kind of thinking is neither imaginary nor surprising. We have actually seen this movie before from these same producers.
In 2007, when the state finally was ready to open the long-delayed Benicia Bridge, officials with BATA had planned a nearly $600,000 party to "celebrate." Once the folks paying the freight properly expressed their outrage, that party was dramatically scaled to a mere $75,000 -- which was about $74,000 too much.
Here we are, six years later, looking at a sequel that is far bigger and more grotesque than the original. Once again a long-overdue project is being completed. But this one is about six times more expensive than the Benicia Bridge, so it stands to some kind of perverted bureaucratic reasoning that the public should now pay for a party that could be up to 20 times more expensive than the original outrageous plan in 2007. It must be inflation adjusted.
The plan, which will be before an authority committee on Wednesday, calls for the party to occur on Labor Day weekend because the bridge must be shut down anyway so Caltrans can make final connections. The plan is to invite people to walk across the span before it is open to traffic.
BATA spokesman Randy Rentschler told our Lisa Vorderbrueggen that, "A public celebration of the new Bay Bridge is absolutely the right thing to do."
He was also quoted as saying, "We want this to be a public event and, since not everyone runs or bicycles, we think people should be able to access the bridge without paying directly for it. To a public event, we have to provide transportation, portable toilets, water, security and the like. That all costs money."
Yes, it does, but here's the thing: It doesn't have to be public money.
We understand the community value of such an event, but the public has been soaked enough. If BATA wants to fund its party through private donations, we say, knock yourself out. But the toll authority shouldn't sink another public dime into this mess.
The toll authority's oversight committee will consider the matter at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in its Oakland headquarters. Once again, we think the people paying the freight may want to weigh in.