Wouldn’t it be awesome to ride a bike or walk across Coronado Bay Bridge and enjoy the views at your own pace? One problem, It could cost up to $210 million and might require bringing back toll charges that ended 15 years ago.
Wouldn’t it be great to ride a bike or walk across the 2.1-mile Coronado Bay Bridge and enjoy the views at your own pace?
A report headed for a San Diego Association of Governments committee Thursday says the concept — dreamed of even before the bridge opened in 1969 — contains no “fatal flaws” except perhaps this one:
It could cost up to $210 million and might require bringing back toll charges that ended 15 years ago.
Supervisor Greg Cox, a long-time champion of a bikeway circling San Diego Bay, said the cost was about four times what he originally expected and he will now leave it to others to pursue the idea as money becomes available.
“It was really just an opportunity to look at possible alternatives,” Cox said. “I think, based on the study we’ve done here, it’s good, useful information.”
As for bringing back the $1-per-car bridge toll, Cox did not endorse a new toll or a specific amount. But he thought any such idea would be a “hard sell,” especially in Coronado, and that perhaps cyclists and pedestrians should be charged instead just as they are on other bridges around the world.
SANDAG’s Bayshore Bikeway Working Group will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday at SANDAG’s downtown office to review the 66-page feasibility report. Since the report will be presented as an “information item,” no official action can be taken but the group can place an “action item” on a future agenda.
Funded by a $75,000 county grant, the study was conducted by the HNTB architectural firm and outlined three ways to cross the bridge on bike or feet:
Build a tube through the bridge’s arch supports and include observation decks on the north and south sides. The tube would be 15 feet in diameter with the interior height at 8 feet and the riding/walk surface 10 feet wide.
Locate the tube alongside the top of the bridge piers, just below the riding surface. But the tube would only be on the north or south side, leaving users no chance to experience the opposite view. And the bridge painting and maintenance equipment system would have to be relocated.
Add the tube at the same level as the driving deck. But this might impede the view enjoyed by motorists on the side of the bridge where the tube is located.
Navy and Caltrans officials raised various issues in comment letters, such as blocked passage of Navy ships between two of the central piers and security and safety concerns. Caltrans said 13 agencies would have some say in permits and permission.
Cox, who was in high school when the bridge was being designed in the early 1960s, said the bridge was narrowed as a cost-saving measure, which may explain why pedestrian and bike lanes were never included. Over the years, many people have lobbied to retrofit the bridge to complete a bikeway around the entire bay and Cox convinced his fellow county supervisors to commission the study.
The tube concept was advanced by retired architect Lew Dominy and the good news, according to the study, is that the bridge can be structurally modified. But as Caltrans said in its comment letter, the bridge will become historic in 2019 and a visual impact analysis is needed to determine if the original sleek, award-winning look would be diminished.
Another concern was whether the 195-foot clearance can be retained for Navy ships and cargo traffic. One of the passages would not be clear because the tube would have to be lowered by 30 feet to meet accessibility standards for the disabled. Cox said the tube could be routed around the affected piers to avoid that problem.
But the cost appears the biggest impediment.
“It is a big number and there are clearly going to be higher priority projects,” Cox said. “This is not going to cut in front of anybody.”
He said an initial guess put the price at no more than $65 million. The order-of-magnitude cost offered by HNTB was $102 million to $118 million for construction plus $83 million to $92 million in design, contingency and overhead costs. The total, without further analysis, puts the cost at between $185 million and $210 million.
Cox said more detailed engineering might bring down the cost significantly. But he said he is not going to call for any further county funding for more studies. He said he will concentrate on the rest of the Bayshore bBkeway plan that will eventually make it possible to ride all the way around the bay from Point Loma through downtown, the South Bay cities and up through Coronado.
The original bridge’s construction was funded by $48 million in state bonds which were paid back through roundtrip tolls that began at $1.20 in 1969 and dropped to $1 in 1988. Before the tolls ended in 2002, $197 million was collected.
An average 66,000 vehicles crossed the bridge daily in 2013, Caltrans said, so a $1 charge would generate nearly $51.5 million annually. If four years of charges were instituted, the tube could be financed with cash and no debt if the feasibility study’s estimates prove accurate.
Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bike Coalition and a member of the Bayshore Bikeway Working Group, said the bridge tube idea is still worth pursuing for the international recognition that the route could attract. “The Golden Gate Bridge is what comes to mind,” he said, as a comparison. “It’s iconic. I’ve crossed it once and it was an amazing, incredible experience.”
He said a $1 toll on motorists would be an interesting idea but a charge for bikers and walkers would not be fair.
“There’s a higher impact from the current (car) usage and congestion and climate concerns as compared to using your bike for transportation or your feet to get around,” he said. “It’s a heck of a lot more sustainable.”
Hanshaw noted that $200 million bikeway projects have been adopted in the region’s transportation master plan and should be funded before any money is diverted to the tube.