Golden Gate Bridge board OKs toll-hike meetings

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge could soon mean less green for drivers on the reddish span.

A decision by the bridge’s board of directors gave the green light to a public-outreach process to investigate a proposed $1 fare increase.Commuters using the iconic span could face the higher toll as soon as July 1.

“We know people aren’t going to like a toll increase, but we’ve got to balance the budget,” bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

In Friday’s board meeting, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District approved three informational open houses and a formal public hearing to discuss the toll increase. After the meetings are convened, which could be as early as June, the bridge’s board of directors could then vote to implement the fare increase.

If approval is met, fare increases could go into effect on July 1, but most likely wouldn’t occur until January, bridge General Manager Celia Kupersmith said.

The Golden Gate Bridge is facing a $91 million projected shortfall over the next five years. According to financial projections, the toll increase would bring in $92 million in revenue in a five-year period, Currie said.

If approved, the increase would raise cash tolls from $5 to $6, while FasTrak tolls would jump from $4 to $5. Disabled drivers, whose toll rates have been set at $1.50 since 1991, would see their fares increase to$3.

Of the bridge’s four sources of funding — tolls, transit fares, government grants and concessions — tolls are the largest source of revenue, according to documents from the bridge district.

A projected $84.7 million of the bridge’s $156.9 million total operating costs for the 2007-08 fiscal year is expected to come from automobile tolls.

The bridge district has plans to invest $443 million in capital-improvement projects over the next five years, including $143 million slated for a seismic retrofit of the bridge and $195 million in projects related to the bus and ferry systems the district operates, according to bridge district documents.

The public-review process is important for bridge officials to hear ideas and feedback from area residents, although ultimately it is the board’s decision whether to raise toll costs, Currie said. There have been 50 public comments already e-mailed via the bridge’s Web site concerning the toll increase, Currie said. Of those, only three support the toll increase, she said.

In 2002, the last time the bridge raised tolls, more than 5,000 public comments were received by bridge officials, although nearly half of them were related to a proposed plan to charge fares for pedestrian and bike crossings, Currie said.

wreisman@examiner.com

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