Bridge tolls expected to increase by September

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High fuel costs will likely drive a $1 toll increase on the Golden Gate Bridge to be implemented sooner than originally planned, bridge officials said.

The rising cost of fuel — needed to power the district’s fleet of buses and ferries — has made it too costly to pass up the extra $1.4 million per month the raised tolls would generate, said Joseph Wire, the financial auditor for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

For every $1 gathered in tolls, 47 cents goes toward transit operations, leaving the bridge district with few options other than toll increases to maintain a balanced budget, district spokeswoman Mary Curry said.

Cash-paying drivers will have to shell out $6 to cross the bridge and FasTrak card holders will pay $5, based on a staff report approved by the bridge district’s finance committee Thursday. Discounted rates for drivers with disabled placards will also increase, rising from $1.50 to $3.

The motion to hike up the toll prices will go before the bridge’s full board today, where it’s expected to gain final authorization.

The increased tolls, which could be in place by September, will generate $93 million during five years, enough to wipe out the bridge district’s $91 million operating budget shortfall projected during that same time period.

Bridge officials earlier this year proposed the increase and said it likely would go into effect in January 2009.

With the new cash rates, the Golden Gate Bridge will be $2 more expensive to cross than the seven other Bay Area bridges, which each cost $4.

The Golden Gate Bridge is overseen by a separate district, while the rest of the bridges, including the Bay Bridge, are managed by Caltrans, the state’s transportation agency.

While the base fee is expected to be approved, a separate proposed toll increase for peak congestion times is off the table for now. The congestion toll have would have resulted in cash-paying drivers being charged $7 during peak hours — if both it and the $1 flat toll increase were approved.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Congestion toll remains in doubt

The Bay Area could lose federal transportation funds after plans to implement a congestion toll on the Golden Gate Bridge stalled.

The Golden Gate Bridge district agreed in March to study a variable-toll proposal so the region could receive a $158 million federal grant.

This week, however, federal officials said the variable-toll plan would not do enough to reduce traffic.

Tilly Chang, deputy director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the group that secured the $158 million grant for the region, said she is confident acompromise on the toll will be reached and all of the federal money will be released.

Federal officials also said the funds are not totally lost because other congestion pricing plans are in the works.

“This isn’t an all or nothing thing,” Tyler Duvall of the Department of Transportation said. “There are a lot of moving pieces here.” — Will Reisman

According to the Transportation Authority, the DOT has already released $58 million of grant, including $35 million for rebuilding Doyle Drive, the seismically-unstable southern approach to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Department of Transportation officials said the bridge district’s two toll proposals — one option charging both cash-payers and FasTrak users an extra dollar during busy travel times, the other option charging cash-payers an extra dollar and FasTrak users 50 cents — aren’t comprehensive enough, according to Celia Kupersmith, the bridge district’s general manager.

Numerous Bay Area agencies are slated to meet with Department of Transportation officials next week to discuss a compromise on the variable toll.

— Will Reisman

A heavy toll

A glance at the increased Golden Gate Bridge toll

$6 Proposed bridge toll

$5 Golden Gate Bridge toll for FasTrak card holders

$4 Toll for other seven Bay Area bridges

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