At a length of 2.12 miles (11,179 feet), the landmark San Diego-Coronado Bridge is better known locally as the Coronado Bridge. It crosses San Diego Bay, stretching in a sweeping 90-degree arc to join Interstate 5 in San Diego with Route 75 on the Island of Coronado. It features a 4.67 percent grade leading to its highest point at 246 feet, with a vertical clearance of about 200 feet, allowing even the tallest ships to pass beneath it.
Construction on this magnificent structure began in 1967 and was completed in August 1969 at a cost of $50 million. The bridge's spans rest on 30 mission-arch shaped concrete piers, supported by clusters of submerged piles, 54 inches in diameter. The piles were driven to depths of up to 100 feet in the bay's floor.
In 1970, Coronado Bridge was honored by the American Institute of Steel Construction with its "Most Beautiful Bridge'' Award of Merit. The bridge's brilliant blue color is intended to blend with the sky and sea, and its specially designed three-foot high railing enables 360-degree panoramic views of the area without sacrificing safety.
Coronado Bridge was originally a toll-bridge, charging westbound drivers $1 to make the drive through its specially designed toll plaza in Coronado. Many of the island's 16,000 residents preferred to keep using the old ferry service to cross the bay, but at a dollar a car, San Diego was able to generate some $8 million a year. The tolls were discontinued in 2002, and today traffic passes in both directions for free, averaging some 100,000 vehicles a day.
The bridge was originally designed for four lanes of traffic, without sidewalks or bike lanes. Initially, it had five-foot-wide emergency lanes on either side, where cars could park and photos could be taken. However, these were eliminated in 1993. Instead, Caltrans added a "reversible'' center lane between the inbound and outbound lanes. This additional lane features moveable barriers, so the number of lanes in each direction can be adjusted to two or three according to traffic flow. There is no provision for pedestrians or cyclists.
That said, one spectacular event over Coronado Bridge is the Navy-organized Bay Bridge Run / Walk held in May each year. The four-mile course starts in San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter downtown, crosses Coronado Bridge, and ends at Coronado's lovely Tidelands Park. The run is certified and sanctioned as a USAT&F road race. Walkers use a separate starting line from runners. Baby strollers, wheelchairs, and guide dogs are permitted, but no skateboards, bikes, or skates are allowed.
Coronado Bridge is also part of the route used by the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition for an annual cycling event called "Ride the Bay.'' Some 2,400 participants show up each August to follow a 25-mile non-timed, non-competitive ride through the five cities surrounding the San Diego Bay. The course starts and finishes at Embarcadero Marina Park South, crossing over Coronado Bridge en route to the Bayshore Bikeway.
Not everything about the Coronado Bridge is fun and games, however. Over the years since its opening, more than 235 persons have died by leaping over the 34-inch railing that marks the perimeter. As a result, the bridge has been derided as one of the deadliest "suicide bridges'' in the United States - ranking second only to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
A body falling 200 feet can reach a speed of over 70 miles per hour. Most of the jumpers were killed immediately upon impact with the water, while others sustained devastating injuries and drowned in the bay. Only about a dozen potential suicides have survived the fall. Unlike custodians in Seattle, San Francisco and Santa Barbara, who have established suicide barriers, emergency phones, and 24-hour patrols on high bridges, local government officials have shown no interest in exploring ways to prevent suicides on Coronado Bridge.