Guarding the Golden Gate

News November 02, 2001
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A golden U

A golden U.S. landmark is receiving Fort Knox treatment today.

Traffic continues to flow across San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, but authorities are taking the proper measures to safeguard the area against possible terrorist attacks. The extra security comes after California Governor Gray Davis warned enemy groups may be targeting four suspension bridges in the state--the Golden Gate, Oakland Bay Bridge, San Diego-Coronado Bridge and the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which crosses the main channel into the Port of Los Angeles.

Golden Gate Bridge General Manager Celia Kupersmith told ROADS&BRIDGES extra measures were installed shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon. The California Highway Patrol, which prior to Sept. 11 were on roving patrols, now have stationed posts.

"Day by day the level of their presence changes, but its always three, four or five cars on the bridge," Kupersmith said. "Today there are probably 14 or 15 out there."

Davis authorized and dispatched the National Guard shortly after hearing about the possible new line of attacks, and there are two units of two people walking the Golden Gate sidewalks "ready to move out if necessary," said Kupersmith.

Officials have restricted sidewalk access. Prior to Sept. 11 there was 24-hour access for bicycles and the bridge was open to pedestrians from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Now, people are only allowed to walk between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and the window for bikes is 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. A bike shuttle runs during off hours.

For the past seven weeks the U.S. Coast Guard has been conducting "armed boardings" of all ship traffic 12 miles out of the San Francisco Bay, and also is requiring four-day advance warning flight plans of any ship movement within the Bay.

The National Parks Services, which owns the land the bridge sits on, is restricting access within the park service facility that is directly below the southern edge of the bridge, and all employees and contractors working on the bridge are required to carry photo I.D.s and must enter through security gates.

Kupersmith says the bridge is armed with video surveillance, but couldn't go into details.

"We're not out there stopping traffic, but we're definitely watching it and we're positioned that if we need to close the bridge at any point in time we can do so immediately," said Kupersmith.

"We're definitely on a heightened state of alert. The total volume (of traffic) seems to be pretty much the same, mabe 5-10% less. Out of 120,000 vehicle crossings a day a 5-10% drop is not a significant number."

Davis is being criticized of pushing the panic button. Federal officials are downplaying the governor's warning, saying it was "uncorroborated" and less credible than the information that led to the nationwide terror alert issued on Monday. Davis, however, cited "credible evidence."

"The one thing we learned on Sept. 11 is that we're not sure what the biggest threat might be," said Kupersmith. "I think the 11th surprised everybody. We're certainly watching things. We're looking for unattended packages, people in areas where they don't belong and traffic flow across the bridge. When a car stalls on the bridge now you've never seen the police be more diligent."

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