Wheels are turning for toll-hike plan

Opinions about a toll increase on the Golden Gate Bridge span great divides, but all sides will have a chance to voice concerns during a forum Thursday.

Drivers who use the Golden Gate Bridge could face a $1 toll increase late this year and potentially another $1 increase during peak hours.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District raised bridge tolls in 2002 from $4 to $5 to help close a $454 million deficit.

Since then, cuts to bus and ferry service, coupled with layoffs, employee health care cuts and other reductions have shrunk the deficit to $91 million, which would be erased by boosting tolls again, according to district spokeswoman Mary Currie.

If approved by the board, motorists could be paying $6 as soon as late 2008, Currie said. The topic will be discussed during an “open house” in San Francisco on Thursday.

Many locals have already offered their two cents’ worth.

“The response is all over the board,” Currie said. “Of those who are opposed, the biggest reaction is that this will cause a financial hardship and we should reduce our spending further.”

However, the board meets March 13 to weigh another fee. San Francisco needs to adopt a congestion-pricing toll for Doyle Drive users in order to secure a $158 million federal grant to help pay for the $1.01 billion replacement of the roadway, according to Tilly Chang, deputy director for planning for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

The transportation authority has raised $640 million for the project, but needs to raise another $160 million to $370 million. A $1 bridge toll during peak traffic times could close that gap, Chang said.

The district must decide by March 31 whetherit will be the agency to collect such a toll, Currie said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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