Regional Measure 3 Heads for the Ballot

Bridge tolls will go up if passed. What will it buy us?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tolls on most Bay Area bridges will reach $9 by 2025 to raise $4.45 billion for transportation projects, if Regional Measure 3 (RM-3) is approved by voters in June.

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC) Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) approved putting RM-3 on the June 5 ballot in the nine Bay Area counties. The measure will raise bridge tolls by $1 on the Bay Area’s seven state-owned toll bridges in 2019, followed by additional $1 increases in 2022 and 2025. The increases would raise funds for transportation improvements, spread around to BART, Caltrain, Muni and other agencies and corridor projects throughout the region.

If passed RM-3 “… will deliver more Muni buses, more BART cars, build out our region’s transportation infrastructure, and deliver real congestion relief in the short term to folks who spend way too much time stuck in traffic,” wrote Nick Josefowitz, BART director, BATA director, and candidate for SF Supervisor for District 2.

Because it is a toll increase and not a tax, it doesn’t trigger California’s two-thirds requirements–a simple majority is all that’s required to pass it. And, so far, polling shows that it has a very good shot at getting the voters’ approval.

This is good news for transit advocates and supporters of livable cities (with a few big catches, mentioned below). According to the state legislature’s spending plan for the funds, $500 million will go for new BART cars, $150 million for the San Francisco Bay Trail and Safe Routes to Transit, $90 million going to Capitol Corridor Amtrak improvements, and $50 million to upgrade the Clipper system. There’s also money for operating ferries, buses, and the soon-to-open Transbay Transit Center.

The money for expanding BART’s railcar fleet is key since the agency will need more trains to increase capacity and accommodate the extension to Milpitas and East San Jose, explained the MTC, in a statement about RM-3. Some of the funds will also help get BART to downtown San Jose and Santa Clara. And $325 million will go to extending Caltrain to Transbay.

$50 million will go towards designing a second Transbay Tube (estimates are it would cost at least $10 billion to build). Obviously, $50 million is a drop in the ocean; it’s just for preliminary engineering, but the region has to start somewhere.

A breakdown of regional capital projects for RM-3. Image: MTC

“The strategy is to do everything that we can now with respect to the second Transbay tube,” said Joël Ramos, regional planning director of TransForm and a director on SFMTA’s board. “There’s a lot of legwork that has to be done with just figuring out the engineering and where the landings will be–all of that kind of stuff still has to happen.” The strategy, he said, is to get everything planned and designed and ready to go and then to put a ballot before the voters, probably around 2020, to look at actually funding such a mega project.

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, agreed: “The $50 million allocated to a new rail crossing can fund some necessary planning and engineering, but a second rail crossing would likely cost more than the entire RM-3 program will raise, so it will need its own funding strategy,” however, he added that “Electrifying Caltrain and extending it to downtown are the necessary preconditions to linking Caltrain, Capitols, and High-speed rail across the Bay so Caltrain improvements can be thought of as a down payment on a future second rail crossing.”

Still, Radulovich isn’t entirely bullish about RM-3. “I’m encouraged to see some projects in RM-3 that will actually expand transit capacity, and improve performance and reliability: funding for additional BART cars, for the Caltrain downtown extension, for Intermodal transit stations, and for bus and light rail fleet expansion … it’s an improvement over RM-2,” he said, referring to the previous toll increases. “However, the measure is heavily loaded with highway expansion projects, which will likely end up worsening congestion on the bridge corridors, and degrade the health, sustainability, and livability of communities adjacent to freeways and arterial roads.”

The interior of one of BART's new cars. RM-3 will enable the agency to buy more cars and provide more service on its ever expanding system. Image: Streetsblog/Rudick
The interior of one of BART’s new cars. RM-3 will enable the agency to buy more cars and provide more service on its expanding system. Image: Streetsblog/Rudick

There’s also the danger that some municipalities will attempt to divert funds from bike, walk, and transit-friendly projects.

Ramos defended RM-3, pointing out that it is asking motorists to pay for a huge amount of transit. “When you do the math and look at how much transit is being funded, it’s something for TransForm to feel good about. It would have been very difficult to fund a more aggressive measure … this was politically the best that we could get.”

He added that RM-2 funded Safe Routes to Transit and Safe Routes to School at $20 million. “Now that line item is increased to $150 million. There were some real wins.”

He also was happy about the $50 million allocated for improving the Clipper system, which he sees as a necessary step towards fully harmonizing and integrating fares on different transit agencies around the Bay Area. “If we’re going to get that, we need to get a new system. That’s the kind of technology we’re hoping to implement with that $50 million.”

“Nobody likes higher tolls,” commented MTC Chair and Rohnert Park City Councilmember Jake Mackenzie, in a prepared statement. “But nobody likes traffic jams or crush-loaded train cars either. The Bay Area has been blessed by several consecutive years of strong economic growth. But the price we’ve paid is the growing congestion on our freeways, railways, buses, and ferries. If our region is going to maintain its economic leadership, we have to have to invest in projects that will keep businesses and their workers moving.”
“RM-3 projects are essential to managing yesterday’s growth and keeping people moving in the future,” said Ratna Amin, SPUR’s Transportation Policy Director. “The region can’t build or improve mobility without raising these types of funds.”

For more details on the RM-3 funding, check out MTC’s chart.

  • Kevin Withers

    Tom Radulovich, executive director says: “However, the measure is heavily loaded with highway expansion projects, which will likely end up worsening congestion on the bridge corridors”

    An ex-Bart guy, actually claiming that the paltry 31% of bridge toll revenue acually proposed to be spent on roads is too much? Get out of your bubble. How about Bart raise their own funding, and leave all the tolls drivers pay for road/highway improvement?

    The entire RM3 Measure is being spun as benefiting roads, and that’s dishonest. It’s primarily a Measure to have drivers directly fund transit.

  • John Murphy

    Riddle me this. How would traffic in the bay area look without BART?

  • Kevin Withers

    If we replaced Bart with a privatized system, one that was also automated but strangely, did not have employee coats as its largest expense, why then traffic and the entire Bay Area would definitely look better.

    California just raised the gas tax, with Jerry Brown complaining that roads are desperately underfunded. And now, this RM3 scam tries to divert driver-generated and much needed funds away from this need? Bart is a black hole of fiscal irresponsibility.

  • John Murphy

    but road construction projects are magical unicorns of efficiency!

  • Kevin Withers

    With 92% of all commuters using roads, let’s hope they can become even more magical.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    You need to learn about the subsidies to the automobile.

  • Kevin Withers

    Educate? OK, let’s revise RM3 so that everyone riding across the bay, on Bart is also charged this $9 bridge toll. That would be an educational way to provide subsides to the automobile.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Not even close. BART hauls the same number of people across the bay as the Bay Bridge does.

  • edsully

    If you mean by fully automated that there is nobody in the train cab I don’t think that would pass Federal and State safety regulations. There has to be somebody in the cab to assist passengers in case of an emergency that required evacuation.

  • Kevin Withers

    Well, it looks like latest data has transit as being 12% of commute.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Regional mode-share is basically useless as a decision making metric. The only thing that really matters is where the bottlenecks are, and how to relieve those.

  • Kevin Withers

    Says you. It is a real world reflection of the patterns of Bay Area residents, that’s what matters. Relieving highway/road bottlenecks, yes, that would be helpful. It’s overdue, let’s get busy.

  • jonobate

    The example of the UK National Rail system shows that running rail with private companies doesn’t reduce costs to the taxpayer; both fares and government subsidies have gone up since privatization. Additionally, companies take more risks because they know that if they screw up and have to declare bankruptcy the government will absorb the cost, because not running the rail service is not a realistic option.

  • Kevin Withers

    UK national rail isn’t automated system like Bart, and you dodge the elephant in the room/Bart car… unsustainable pension expenses that are dissolving whatever remains of the viability of Bart.

  • Pretty sure Honolulu is building a completely automated system.

  • An ex-Bart guy, actually claiming that the paltry 31% of bridge toll revenue proposed to be spent on roads is too much?

    So remind us again how much it would cost to provide the same mobility options being provided by the improved transit if spent solely on expanding roads.

  • Kevin Withers

    So remind me how replacing old Bart cars with new Bart cars, at a cost of $2.5 billion, actually increases commuters options?
    Oh right, they reduced the number of seats, so they have expanded your option to stand.

  • jonobate

    The numbers don’t lie. BART covers most of its operating costs, even with high pension costs, and does much better than most other transit agencies. All transit agencies have to deal with high pension costs, as does Caltrans and its contractors when they build and maintain the highway system.

    Can you give me an example of an automated rail system that does make a profit, anywhere in the world? As far as I know there are only a few non-high speed rail systems that make a profit, such as Hong Kong’s MTR, and these systems exist in urban environments that are far denser than the Bay Area.

  • patooties

    If you have ever ridden the Pittsburg Baypoint Line at rush hour you would know that any additional standing room whatsoever is a welcome addition. Off peak hours getting a seat has never been an issue.

  • Affen_Theater

    Remind me again how it benefits motorists to let the BART fleet fall apart such that system reliability plummets and BART riders take to their cars and jam highways and bridges instead? How is letting transit fall apart a benefit to motorists and transit riders who will have no option but to drive?

    And doesn’t BART carry the lion’s share of peak period person-trips across the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge corridor?

  • Kevin Withers

    The tired arguments about taking care of Bart ring hollow. Same off-key song for decades. Bart is almost its own worse enemy. The road system needs work, everybody knows it. The diversion of drivers money to further the spiraling pension disaster called Bart is counterproductive.

    Lions share? Nope. Latest data has car traffic at 270,000/day, (which is more than 270,000 people)

    Bart ridership across the transbay tube is 175,000 ish.

  • SFnative74

    New cars mean fewer breakdowns and more room for people which mean higher throughput and more people on BART than on the freeway in your way. If BART falls apart, life on the freeways and bridges will be more miserable than you can imagine.

  • In addition to the standing room, the investment in biking and walking infrastructure that connects to BART provides a more realistic option for people to reach it. That shifts people out of their cars and is cheaper than building another lane to handle that amount of people by orders of magnitude.

  • Kevin Withers

    Got it, but they could have simply removed some seats from existing cars to get that result. $2.5 Billion for new cars… that’s a lot of money, perhaps could have been better allocated.

  • patooties

    They have been, the trains are falling apart and I am sure the maintenance costs on 50 year old trains is horrendous. They are also adding a third door to all the cars which is HUGE. 2.5 billion sounds like a lot but infrastructure is horrendously expensive. For instance adding just a single lane on a freeway is 4 million per mile, and how many miles of freeway could use an additional traffic lane? Im sure its in the hundreds if not thousands of miles in the bay area alone.

  • patooties

    Its not drivers money though. Drivers only subsidize about ~35% of the cost needed for road and highway maintenance, the rest has to come from other sources.

  • crazyvag

    New cars can load and unload faster with wider doors and more of them. If you save 20 secs at each stop, you can run an extra train per hour which holds about 1500 riders.

  • crazyvag

    At least we BART can open and close doors with just one operator. In NYC, they still require 2 people to operate a train.

  • City Resident

    There’s nothing magical about global warming and climate change. If your commute requires you to seriously pollute, there’s something very wrong. Driving is now the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in California.

  • Kevin Withers

    Relieving traffic bottlenecks would reduce pollution. We used to acknowledge that as obvious.

    P.S. I work from home, no commute, and typically ride a motorcycle when my truck isn’t needed.

    Your concern about climate change might be best directed at furthering carbon-capture & storage technology. Seriously.

  • City Resident

    Carbon capture and storage, fortunately, appears to hold some promise. Better yet, though, is to not release the carbon into the atmosphere in the first place. Public transit (and cycling, walking, etc.) makes this possible.

  • Sara

    I’m so glad somebody is talking about climate change here! It should be a way higher priority, since we don’t have time to wait.

  • Sara

    Carbon capture & storage sounds great, but only about 20% of the CO2 could be captured, and getting even that requires big changes to each vehicle on the road, & somebody would have to pay for them anyway. Here’s one review (very general but easy to read)

  • Kevin Withers

    Your referenced article only looks at small scale/vehicle based carbon capture. Atmospheric carbon scrubbers are what’s needed, and not many vehicles will still be fossil fuel based by the time the technology is integrated. In the mean time, let’s keep the roads as congestion free as is reasonable. The MTC needs to focus on its task and not try to influence lifestyle and societal parameters.

  • Stuart

    We used to acknowledge that as obvious.

    And like many things that people used to think were obvious, it didn’t hold up to study:

  • Kevin Withers

    Ah, the selective application of “induced demand” to attempt to refute other data. Induced demand is a theory, and it plays into various things like housing in addition to transportation. Any scientific data about how “induced demand” effects overall pollution is missing, and it remains a Theory.

    Anyway. From your referenced spin piece:
    “its true that cars emit more carbon per mile while idling and in stop and go traffic than they do when cruising at 30 to 45 miles per hour, “

  • Stuart

    Ah, the selective application of “induced demand” to attempt to refute other data.

    Uh, no. The linked research is direct evaluation of data. Data that showed no correlation between either congestion levels in general, or increased congestion over time, on per-capita emissions.

    Induced demand is a plausible explanation for that, but the study isn’t extrapolating from a theory. It’s looking at actual data from actual metro areas.

    Any scientific data about how “induced demand” effects overall pollution is missing

    Unless you, you know, look at the scientific studies filled with data that the article is based on.

    From your referenced spin piece:
    “its true that cars emit more carbon per mile while idling and in stop and go traffic than they do when cruising at 30 to 45 miles per hour, “

    Yes. And despite that, data shows that pollution levels in aggregate show no correlation at all with congestion. Indicating that something else is offsetting that. If you don’t believe induced demand is a real thing, okay, but that doesn’t change the fact that something is cancelling out that individual-car-level effect.

  • Kevin Withers

    Your faved research article draws correlations, but causation? Not so much. In any case, their prime conclusion rests on the notion that if congestion is reduced, there will “simply be more drivers”. That type supposition is so easy to toss out, in the now classic effort to argue against any and all road improvements. OK, are you really going to argue that from here forward, roads are never to be improved or expanded? If so, please, enjoy your fantasy.

  • Stuart

    Your faved research article draws correlations

    Yes. Specifically, they find no correlation between congestion and pollution. Which directly contradicts your claim that “Relieving traffic bottlenecks would reduce pollution.”

    Can you point to any scientific study of real-world data that supports the opposite conclusion: that at the macro level, relieving traffic bottlenecks reduces pollution?

    but causation? Not so much.

    It turns out reality doesn’t care whether we understand causation or not. Things still happen the way they happen. You don’t get to ignore actual data just because you disagree with the theory put forward to explain it.

    So, if you are so sure that induced demand is not a real thing, and that reducing congestion must reduce pollution (because it’s “obvious”), what is your explanation for the observed data in those studies?

    OK, are you really going to argue that from here forward, roads are never to be improved or expanded?

    Congratulations on your ability to construct men out of straw.

    “Relieving traffic bottlenecks would reduce pollution” and ‘there exist legitimate reasons to improve roads’ are very different statements. Feel free to scroll back up if you’ve forgotten which of the two I was responding to.


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