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Controversial Bay Bridge Design Approved

<i> From Associated Press</i>

A controversial new look for the nation’s busiest toll bridge won approval Wednesday despite objections from several local mayors that the design is ugly and flawed.

The 11-1 vote of the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission gives the go-ahead to a redesigned eastern span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge that features a long causeway with a single suspension tower.

Construction is expected to begin in early 2000 on the $1.5-billion project.

Supporters at Wednesday’s meeting lauded the design as more practical and safer than the alternatives for the earthquake-damaged span.

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“If we had a slight tremor in this room, the top issue would be safety,” said Alameda County Supervisor Mary King, who serves on the commission. “I want our children to remember that we protected the economy, the environment, the panoramic view of the city of Oakland, and most important, their lives.” But the plan drew criticism from others.

Among those weighing in was Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, who said the design--which affects only the eastern portion of the 2-mile-span--resembles a “freeway on stilts.” He declared it an unsuitable gateway to his city.

Harris, who also serves on the transportation commission, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Six other mayors added their dissent, as did Oakland Mayor-elect Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. “We want excellence, not average,” Brown said.

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The Bay Bridge accommodates 280,000 cars, trucks and buses a day. That’s more than twice the 120,000 vehicles that cross the Golden Gate Bridge daily.

To critics, the final design--the result of nearly two years of discussions that cost taxpayers $15 million--squanders an opportunity to put the Bay Bridge on equal footing with the Golden Gate, its more photogenic cousin.

State Assemblyman Don Perata (D-Oakland) had pledged to bring the bridge design issue to voters if the commission refused to look at other proposals. A regional vote in the Bay Area’s nine counties could overturn any commission decision.

“The Bay Bridge, after all, is world-renowned--and if we get a better one, and we can, we should,” Perata said.

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Commissioners said delays would jeopardize lives should a large earthquake hit.

“There are seismic realities here,” King said. “We talk about planning for it and then we delay it for as long as we can.”


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