Traffic flows along the western span of the Bay Bridge toward San Francisco from Yerba Buena Island on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

No more digging for change: Plan to make Bay Area bridge tolls all-electronic approved

The Bay Area Toll Authority just kicked off its plan to convert seven Bay Area bridges to all-electronic tolls.

That process includes efforts by Caltrans to find new careers for its roughly 200 toll-takers, who will one day soon be phased out for cameras that snap photos of license plates to forward a bill, and a greater reliance on FasTrak.

This plan doesn’t include the Golden Gate Bridge, which is run by an independent district and has already converted to all-electronic tolling. But it does apply to the San Francisco Bay Bridge and its 66 toll-takers, among others.

At their regular meeting Wednesday morning, the toll authority’s oversight committee approved a $4 million contract with WSP USA, inc. to oversee the all-electronic toll conversion, according to toll authority documents.

WSP is formerly Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering firm that has consulted on myriad Bay Area transportation projects in various corporate incarnations for decades. WSP is subcontracting with Fagan Consulting, LLC, which meets the requirements of a disadvantaged business enterprise, which are primarily “minority-owned” or women-owned businesses, according to Caltrans.

While the toll authority and Caltrans expect implementation to take place over five years, a final timeline is expected to be developed by WSP, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Perhaps of note, a consultancy firm — in this case, WSP — was initially expected to be hired by March, but instead was approved Wednesday, months later.

In the meantime, Caltrains is developing plans to help its roughly 200 toll-takers transitions into other jobs within the state agency.

Bart Ney, office chief of Caltrans public affairs, told the San Francisco Examiner “there are slots” for those employees elsewhere at Caltrans.

Those toll-takers are often well known, Ney said. “They’re almost like a rock star or celebrity. People will recognize them.”

Caltrans recognizes the need to phase them into other careers, he said, adding “We will try to find the appropriate place that fits the employee and the need (from) Caltrans.”

The toll authority first authorized the move to all-electronic, open road tolling in December 2018. The consultants approved Wednesday will be responsible for developing the toll system’s specifications, providing oversight of the program’s implementation, reviewing design plans, and help to develop policies for all-electronic tolling.

Bridges under the purview of the toll authority include the Antioch Bridge, Benicia-Martinez Bridge, Carquinez Bridge, Dumbarton Bridge, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, San Mateo-Hayward Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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