Anti-terror effort calls off walk at Bay Bridge

April 13, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Organizers of this year's Bay Bridge Walk have canceled the May 4 event, concerned that the annual chance for walkers to cross the 4.3-mile span would divert hundreds of police officers from increased homeland security duties.

The walk, expected to draw up to 50,000 people in its 29th year, has been canceled only twice before. Last year and in 1980, organizers called off the event when heavy rains and gusting winds threatened participants' safety. This year, officials with the Maryland Transportation Authority worried that security for the event could drain critical police resources at a time when officers are facing increased demands for overtime to respond to the nation's heightened threat of terrorism.

"Although it is difficult to predict what the public safety staffing situation may be in another few weeks, we needed to make the decision at this time so that our partners in this event and the general public would be able to plan accordingly," Thomas L. Osborne, the authority's executive secretary, said in a written statement.

More than 300 officers from the Maryland Transportation Authority Police as well as other federal, state and local police are tapped each spring to provide security for the event along the bridge as well as at nearby parking lots and roads.

The walk, typically more of a social outing than an athletic event, takes about two hours to complete. But police are called to provide a full day of patrols and security, said Lori A. Vidil, a transportation authority spokeswoman.

"It just didn't seem like the best use of those resources, given the schedules that police agencies already have been working due to the heightened security levels," Vidil said yesterday.

The authority had not received any specific security threats concerning the bridge or the event, she said. And although this year's cancellation marks the second year in a row that the event has been scratched, Vidil said officials expect to revive the bridge walk next spring.

"This decision was for this year alone," Vidil said. "This was not a blanket cancellation."

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