Doyle Drive plan may hit brakes

A $158 million federal grant for fighting Bay Area gridlock could be lost if the state Legislature does not meet a spring deadline to give a city agency the authority to impose a toll on the heavily trafficked and aging Doyle Drive.

The Bay Area received the funds through the federal Urban Partnership Program. Grantees were required to include some form of congestion pricing — which penalizes drivers for using key thoroughfares during peak driving hours — in order to qualify for the funds.

Of the $158 million awarded to the Bay Area, $35 million is to help defray the $810 million cost to seismically upgrade Doyle Drive, the southern approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. Another $12 million is for electronic tolling equipment for Doyle Drive — the congestion-pricing component of the Bay Area grant proposal.

The grant carries with it a number of conditions, including that the legal authority to collect tolls on Doyle Drive must be in place by March 31, and tolls must be collected starting no later than Sept. 30, 2009.

For The City to charge a toll on Doyle Drive, it would need approval from the state Legislature, and city officials have expressed concern that this would not happen in time to meet the federal government’s deadline.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who chairs the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the agency taking the lead on the Doyle Drive toll project, wrote a letter to the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District this month asking the agency to consider acting as the toll authority.

“Our main goal in respect to this alternative is to demonstrate compliance — in order to avoid the loss of $158 million to the Bay Area,” McGoldrick wrote.

On Friday, however, the attorney for the Bridge District ruled that the agency did not have the authority to impose a toll on all users of Doyle Drive without state approval.

José Luis Moscovich, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority’s executive director, said he was not “terribly concerned” that the grant money would be lost.

“I think we’re well on our way [toward] getting this done,” he said. “We’re focused on the positives of getting this done.”

Moscovich said that if they run out of time, the Transportation Authority would ask the Bridge District to “reconsider” acting as the tolling authority, adding that the initial legal opinion is not necessarily the “last word” on the matter.

The toll for use of Doyle Drive would be about $1 to $2 and would be collected electronically, with no toll booth, Moscovich said. The new toll, which would help fund the Doyle Drive improvements, would be in addition to the existing toll to cross Golden Gate Bridge, for those drivers coming into San Francisco.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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