East Bay commuters who use the Bay Bridge or the San Mateo bridge can get prepared for their wallets to take care of Peninsula, South Bay and San Francisco residents and workers.
This week, the Bay Area Toll Authority is expected to place a measure on the June ballot that would allow bridge tolls to increase up to $3 and index further increases to inflation. In other words, this will be the last time that voters will have the opportunity to express an opinion on whether tolls should increase.
What’s unfortunate about this measure is that East Bay bridge commuters (Alameda and Contra Costa counties) pay about 49 percent of the bridge fares, but will receive substantially less benefit as the authority doles out the money. Where the money goes ties directly to the political clout of San Francisco, the Peninsula and the South Bay.
The measure is designed to raise $4.46 billion over the next 20 years to support identified projects. The toll increases are phased to take effect in 2019, 2022 and 2025.
BART would get $500 million toward an expanded fleet of rail cars and also $50 million for preliminary design on a second Transbay crossing.
Highways would get $300 million for new toll lanes and $1.1 billion to rebuild interchanges and improving the most congested freeways. The measure also contains $160 million to improve goods movement—a key for I-580 and I-880 in the East Bay. There’s is $100 million for “last mile” transit connections in the I-580 corridor through the Tri-Valley as well as money for Highway 84/I-680 interchange in Sunol ($85 million).
The list also contains projects that have no connection to bridges such as $325 million to extend CalTrain into downtown San Francisco and $375 million to bring BART into downtown San Jose as well as $100 million for the transit center in San Jose. The same goes for $140 million for Muni trains in San Francisco as well as questionable projects in Marin and Sonoma counties.
Clearly, the politicians saw lots of cash in the candy jar and dug their hands in.
Given the congestion that has been driven by an economy that is flourishing for many people, the betting line here says that the measure passes easily. That’s particularly true because the number of people affected by the toll is a small percentage of the voting public. Throw in that the business, labor, government union and construction interests will all be in favor and there’s a huge uphill battle for anyone mounting a serious effort in opposition.