Congestion-based toll a sound idea

Trying out congestion pricing makes sense because it simultaneously gives commuting drivers both a carrot and a stick for either switching to public transit or working flextime hours. Both alternatives would reduce the steadily worsening gridlock on Bay Area roadways during rush hours, and The Examiner strongly supports testing congestion pricing locally soon.

Congestion pricing seems to have successfully decreased automotive traffic in central London and other urban centers that tried it. The U.S. Department of Transportation has been linking its federal grants to the recipients’ compliance with deadlines forstrategies aimed at reducing congestion. One requirement placed on San Francisco’s long-sought $158.7 million federal grant for a line-up of transportation projects was to start a new congestion-based toll fee in the Bay Area.

In other words, many transportation experts agree congestion pricing is a good idea. So perhaps The City ought to feel flattered that the North Bay board majority of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Ferry District seems blindly determined to hijack this congestion pricing away from the original purpose that San Francisco worked so hard for.

The bone of contention has always been San Francisco-owned Doyle Drive, the narrow, outmoded and seismically unsafe southern approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. The $158.7 million federal grant included $58 million toward the $1.01 billion Doyle Drive rebuild. But that still left the project $370 million short of estimated costs, and the difference must be largely paid by user tolls.

When The City suggested a $1 Doyle Drive toll with possible peak-hour congestion pricing on top of the already area-high $5 bridge toll, North Bay politicians and media began howling about the unfair “Marin commuter tax” to fix a San Francisco street. Facing the Transportation Department’s final deadline to accept a congestion-based bridge toll or lose the $158.7 million, a 10-8 bridge district board vote in March forced a restrictive toll that could spend all congestion pricing revenues only on Golden Gate buses and ferries.

As of last Friday, the bridge board began officially rolling forward with the lengthy approval process for a pair of toll increases that could balloon Golden Gate fees to as much as $7 in 2009. This decision does not necessarily make it impossible for San Francisco to fund desperately needed improvements of Doyle Drive traffic flow and earthquake safety; but will make it far more difficult.

By obstinately refusing to cooperate in a true regional effort to upgrade the entire Golden Gate Bridge road connection, Marin officials provide a textbook example of how to cut off your nose to spite your face. What good does it do them to grab all the toll money if their city-bound commuters must slow-crawl the final lap to their destinations along a traffic-clogged and seismically unsafe Doyle Drive?

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