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Regional measure would raise bridge tolls to fund transit improvements

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The toll for the Bay Bridge would rise to nine dollars by 2025 during peak commute hours if Regional Measure 3 is passed. (Cindy Chew/2009 S.F. Examiner)

Bridge tolls across the Bay Area will rise by three dollars if the voters in nine counties, including San Francisco, approve Regional Measure 3 to fund transportation in June.

If the measure is approved by a simple majority, the toll on the Bay Bridge would rise from six to nine dollars during commute periods, for instance. The price would not go up immediately, however, as the tolls are set to increase by $1 in 2019, $1 in 2022 and $1 in 2025.

The increased tolls would fund nearly $4.5 billion in transit projects across the region, meant to lessen traffic congestion and address a booming workforce.

Historically, the Bay Area jumped in front of a previous population boom with the launch of BART in 1972, said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the thinktank SPUR. But afterward, the region significantly slowed its investments.

“We were ahead,” Metcalf said of BART’s launch. But, he added, “Since BART opened, there’s been very little transit expansion” in the Bay Area.

The result is heavy traffic, clogged roads and BART trains packed to the gills.

“We have to play catch up for generational under-investment,” Metcalf said.

About 75 percent of the funds from Regional Measure 3 would be used for regional transit projects, including in San Francisco. Around $500 million would help fund new BART cars, $140 million would replace and expand Muni’s fleet and facilities and $325 million would help fund the Caltrain extension to the Transbay Transit Center in South of Market.

To prepare for the future, $50 million would go toward studying a potential new underwater Transbay Tube, which could carry BART or Caltrain rail cars.

San Francisco car and shuttle commuters traveling south would also benefit, as the measure would fund improvements to the U.S. Highway 101/SR-92 Interchange and $130 million in improvements to the Dumbarton corridor.

John Grubb, chief operating officer of the Bay Area Council, a business public advocacy organization, highlighted the measure’s boost to the regional ferry system.

Regional Measure 3 would fund new ferry boats and enhancements to the S.F. Bay Ferry system with $300 million, which, Grubb said, could make the San Francisco Bay a ferry-centric commute again.

“That’s a big deal,” he said, “You can get a lot of people on ferry boats. It’s a flexible system.”

About $60 million annually would go to regional bus and ferry service in bridge corridors, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Addressing concerns that the toll hike would hurt low-income earners, Regional Measure 3 proponents argued that carpoolers will net a 50 percent toll reduction.

The MTC is also developing a new regional transit fare discount program. That discount will reduce transit fares by 30 to 50 percent for low-income riders.

Perhaps the most vocal public critic of any new BART funding, state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, collaborated on the regional measure to create an independent funding auditor for BART, headed by an inspector general.

“If an independent check is good enough for transit systems in most of our major metropolitan areas, it should be good enough for BART,” Glazer said in a statement. “BART will get about one billion dollars from toll revenues generated by this measure, so it’s vital that riders and residents have someone who will be the public’s eyes and ears and will hold BART’s administration accountable.”

Over the next 25 years, about 69 percent of the funding would go to transit improvements, 25 percent to highway and road improvements, and 3 percent to bike and pedestrian improvements.

Alameda County would net 32 percent of project funding, Contra Costa County 18 percent, Santa Clara County 15 percent, Solano County 10 percent, San Francisco County 9 percent, San Mateo County 8 percent, Marin County 4 percent, Sonoma County 3 percent and Napa County 1 percent.

Most bridge tolls are paid by Alameda county residents, who took 29 percent of total bridge toll trips between 2016 and 2017, according to the MTC. San Franciscans, by contrast, took 10 percent of bridge toll trips in that period.

Bridges under the authority of the MTC and the Bay Area Toll Authority cost $5, but the Bay Bridge is $6 during peak commute hours.

Golden Gate Bridge tolls, which are $7.75 if paid by license plate and $6.75 if paid by FasTrak, are managed by a separate agency and would not see tolls rise if Regional Measure 3 is approved.

By contrast, on the East Coast the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey set bridge tolls at $10.50 during off-peak hours and $12.50 during peak commute periods.

The measure’s endorsement list is vast and includes officials and organizations across the Bay Area. In San Francisco, the measure is endorsed by state Sen. Scott Wiener, Assemblymember Phil Ting, Assemblymember David Chiu, supervisors Jane Kim, Hillary Ronen and Catherine Stefani, the San Francisco League of Conservation Voters, the San Francisco Transit Riders, San Francisco Women’s Political Committee and SPUR.

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