Bay Area Toll Authority Mulls Toll Increase Scenarios, Seeks Public Input

bay_bridge_traffic_small.jpgPhoto: kpmarek
As the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) continues its regional public hearings, including one tonight in San Francisco, the various options the agency is proposing for increasing bridge tolls are generating a number of debates and proposals, including the funding of the long-discussed pedestrian/bicycle/maintenance paths over the west span of the Bay Bridge.

The toll increases and changes would take effect on the seven state-owned Bay Area bridges, (Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael, San Francisco-Oakland Bay and San Mateo-Hayward bridges), and the additional revenue would go primarily to finance the $750 million that BATA estimates is needed for seismic retrofits to the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges. The new tolls could be voted on as soon as the January BATA meeting.

The three toll increase scenarios are:

  • Option 1: $5 toll for autos and motorcycles, $3 for carpools and $6 per each additional axle for trucks
  • Option 2: $5 toll for autos and motorcycles, $0 for carpools and $10 per each additional axle for trucks
  • Option 3: Same as Option 1 for six bridges except for San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which would charge $6 for autos and motorcycles in peak hours and $4 for autos in non-peak hours (M-F), and $5 for autos on weekends

Of all the options, number 3, which essentially works out to congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge, is generating a good deal of debate. TransForm, which advocates for smart growth and alternative transportation funding, would like to see the increased congestion fee during peak hours, but would like the fee during non-peak hours on the Bay Bridge to be $5, like the baseline that would be adopted at all the other bridges.

"If BATA's proposal is to increase the base toll to $5, then they should use the base to be the non-peak toll at the Bay Bridge, not a number that's lower than any other bridge," said Transform's Carli Paine. Paine also said her organization opposes Option 1 because it would discourage carpooling. "Simply put, let's not try to raise the revenue on carpoolers, who are doing what people should be doing."

Paine also said a big fee increase should come from commercial vehicles, because BATA data showed trucks have a greater impact on roadways and over time aren't paying enough in fees for upkeep, particularly trucks that aren't registered in California and don't pay taxes in the state.

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition's (EBBC) position is similar to TransForm's, though it would like to see language in the resolution that would require BATA to use a portion of the Bay Bridge fee increase to complete the Bay Bridge paths. EBBC Executive Director Robert Raburn said that the new paths would be a benefit for all users of the bridge (vehicle breakdowns and maintenance requiring lane closures currently cause significant traffic delays) and would cost approximately $200 million, just over one year's projected revenue from the toll increase.

"We have to bridge the gap. We've made a tremendous investment in the East Span," said Raburn. "There are only a limited number of attractions on Treasure Island at present. Right now cyclists don't have an option [to go from the East Bay to San Francisco], particularly when you have the BART blackout. Oakland is closer to the downtown San Francisco district than Marin is to downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge gets loads of bicycle traffic."

Raburn's proposal will likely be met with resistance, in part because the funding mechanisms in place at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the parent body of BATA, cannot easily transfer toll money for new projects, according to MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler.

"This toll increase is being used for seismic measures," said Rentschler, who added that Regional Measures 1 and 2, which fund bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects, are beneficiaries of toll money, but are already programmed and leave little room for projects like the west-span Bay Bridge path.

"We need this toll increase in part because this debt strategy requires it," said Rentschler. "We tried in state law to authorize a future vote to do more measures with toll money, a 'Regional Measure 3' or similar, but that failed.  This is not about doing more stuff, this is about funding the stuff we've got."

Tonight's hearing is at SF State's Downtown Campus, 835 Market St., Room 609 (between 5th and 4th Streets). The hearing will feature a short open house (from 6:30 to 7 p.m.) and a staff presentation (beginning at 7 p.m.) prior to public testimony.

You can take an MTC survey here. Written comments will be accepted until 4 p.m., December 21, 2009; written comments should be submitted to the BATA Public Information Office at 101 Eighth Street, Oakland, California, 94607-4700; or faxed to BATA at 510.817.5848; or sent via e-mail to tolls@mtc.ca.gov.