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Bay Area bridges tolls on the rise

Sacramento passes bill that may raise tolls on our bridges

The Bay Bridge with the SF skyline behind it. Photo by Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH

California lawmakers sent so many bills to Gov. Jerry Brown at the end of the legislative session Friday—including affordable housing bonds and a new law that will all but force California cities to build more housing—that it was easy to miss SB 595, a bill that might raise the Bay Bridge toll to $9.

In fact, the proposal by San Jose Sen. Jim Beall would up the ante on almost all Bay Area bridges by three bucks. But it will be up to voters in 2018 to approve the toll hikes.

Why would the general public do that? Possibly because Beall’s bill begets billions in new state funds, as much as $4.45 billion yearly. Which the San Jose lawmaker promises to put toward improving commutes. It might even help push BART to Silicon Valley.

SB 595 reads:

Traffic congestion on the region’s seven state-owned toll bridges degrades the bay area’s quality of life, impairs its economy, and shows no signs of abating. Between 2010 and 2015, combined volumes on the region’s seven state-owned toll bridges grew by 11 percent. [...]

To improve the quality of life and sustain the economy of the San Francisco Bay Area, it is the intent of the Legislature to require the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to place on the ballot a measure authorizing the voters to approve an expenditure plan to improve mobility and enhance travel options on the bridges and bridge corridor,s to be paid for by an increase in the toll rate.

Note that this would not affect the Golden Gate Bridge, which is not state owned. Among the uses for the bridge money, Beall proposes funding BART extensions to San Jose and Santa Clara.

“Let’s take action now to curb traffic before it becomes worse,” said Beall about the toll hikes earlier this month, framing the pinch of an extra commute expense as a needed down payment.

Among the bill’s critics is Concord Assemblymember Tim Grayson, who wrote in an op-ed earlier this month that toll hikes stick it to bridge users while non-bridge users reap the benefits.

“Politically this makes sense: the fewer people made to pay and the more people who benefit, the more likely it is that the measure will pass,” writes Grayson. “[But] is it fair to place the burden so disproportionately on one segment of our region?”

Come 2018, voters will decide.

The San Rafael Bridge.
The San Rafael Bridge.
Photo by Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH