Cheaper plan sought for Bay Bridge walkway

With a bike and pedestrian pathway for the western span of the Bay Bridge estimated to cost up to $500 million, a bridge oversight committee agreed Wednesday to spend up to $10 million to hire a consultant to find a cheaper option.

While the idea of walking or bicycling between Oakland and San Francisco is appealing to many, how to add pedestrian and bicycle lanes to the bridge has been a longstanding logistical challenge.

The new eastern span of the bridge included a walkway when it opened last year, but it stops short of Yerba Buena Island and for now remains more recreational than functional. Bridge officials expect the connection to be completed next year.

But the 2-mile western span of the bridge has never been accessible to pedestrians — something that Bay Area Toll Authority executive director Steve Heminger hopes to change in the next several years.

A previously commissioned study by T.Y. Lin International on the feasibility of adding a walkway to the western span estimated that the project would cost between $400 million and $500 million and included potentially building an elevator from the bridge to San Francisco city streets.

Now the authority intends to hire another consulting firm, Arup North America Ltd., to prepare a proposal with a cheaper price tag. Though if the toll authority can’t reach an agreement with Arup, it would hire T.Y. Lin again.

Toll authority project manager Peter Lee said at Wednesday’s meeting:

“We’re going back and sharpening our pencils on the technical side.”

The toll authority’s oversight committee unanimously approved the new study. The proposal for the new walkway is expected to be completed sometime next year.

If approved, moving forward with the project would require finding additional revenue to cover costs before construction could potentially begin in 2016.