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As bridge toll hike vote looms, commuters reach for the brakes

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Will voters approve a $3 toll hike?

Traffic on the Bay Bridge. Photo by PikasDreams

On January 24, the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA)—a 21-member body with authority over seven key Bay Area bridge crossings, including the Bay Bridge but not the Golden Gate Bridge—will vote on whether or not to support $3 toll hikes to raise money for transit funding, leaving some commuters already grinding their gears.

The BATA vote comes after the lower toll Oversight Committee voted unanimously in favor of the proposal, which would push tolls up gradually, implementing the final price of $9 for the Bay Bridge and $8 for half a dozen other regional bridges by 2025.

But voters would get the final say on the matter via a ballot measure (Regional Measure 3) in the June election.

San Jose State Senator Jim Beall masterminded the transit plan, which, in part, could raise more than $4.5 billion annually in transit funds:

Regional Measure 3 gives voters the opportunity to determine whether they want to invest in a comprehensive regional plan to cut commute times. If passed, RM3 projects will also create jobs in transit and construction, increase transit ridership, provide matching funds for state and federal grants, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all with the goal of reducing congestion.

Beall’s bill passed the State Senate on a 27-13 vote in October. Governor Jerry Brown signed it shortly thereafter. If BATA buoys Beall’s ambitions, the last obstacle will be the voters themselves.

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

However. commuter Rebecca Gerber started a petition protesting the potential price hike this week, netting over 20,000 signatures in three days (although fewer than 5,200 of the signers are actually from California).

“As housing costs skyrocket across the Bay Area, many people are being forced to move to more affordable areas and accept longer commutes to work,” writes Gerber. “These toll hikes [...] would make driving unaffordable too.”

“I don’t believe BART or the South Bay should receive funds from our bridges,” one signature reads, echoing comments from Concord Assemblymember Tim Grayson, who opposed the Beall bill in the legislature for (in his view) enriching some commuters’ infrastructure at the expense of others’.

(Grayson failed to block the toll plan in the assembly, which passed it 43-31.)

“When these bridges were built, the tolls were supposed to end when the construction cost was paid off,” another signer complains, adding “I learned this from my mother decades ago.”

Despite petitioner’s gripes, they may have an uphill battle; SF Weekly reports that in a 2017 poll, 60 percent of likely voters said they’d approve the toll hike once they found out which projects the money would finance, including finally extending BART to San Jose.

The western span of the Bay Bridge, as seen from Treasure Island. Photo by Anthony Massie