Deadlock on Doyle Drive toll

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District Board was largely justified in blocking the rush to approve a $1 to $2 toll for the Doyle Drive approach to the San Francisco end of Golden Gate Bridge in time for a March 31 federal funding deadline.

In a contentious Friday meeting, the North Bay-dominated board narrowly averted a resolution refusing to collect the toll at bridge booths. Instead they voted 10-8 to indefinitely postpone taking an official stand. Also tabled was an alternate resolution outlining Marin and Sonoma counties’ main objections to the present version of the toll.

These objections are: An extra one-way toll into San Francisco unfairly burdens North Bay commuters instead of equally spreading the cost among all users. If the Golden Gate District is forced to collect tolls for a project it has no control over, the public will still blame bridge authorities for high fees andresist future levies for actual Golden Gate needs. Doyle Drive is officially a state road, so state government should take responsibility for funding all repairs and expansion. Marin and Sonoma County opinion journalists also blast tolls as an open-ended dollar grab by the “famously profligate” San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The knotty process of imposing, collecting and administering the toll crosses regional, state and federal levels. A Doyle Drive toll must be imposed by the state Legislature. But the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which distributes the Bay Area’s federal and state transit grants, insists it is vital for all regional agencies involved to present a united front.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on that March 31 deadline for a $159 million federal grant that depends on San Francisco implementing a demand-based pricing toll. The U.S. Department of Transportation award is under an experimental Urban Partnership program, seeking to reduce oppressively heavy metropolitan traffic with controversial new methods such as business flex-hour tolls, digital fee collection and congestion pricing.

When Washington announced the grant in August, The Examiner grudgingly went along with the unfairly burdensome toll demand. Our reasoning was that Doyle Drive has been a recognized deathtrap since the 1970s and cash-hungry California is unlikely to provide enough money for a rebuild anytime soon. The only feasible way to fix this notorious bottleneck would be federal funding, even if that is only available with strings attached.

After all, we are talking about a 1.5-mile link that is more than 60 years old and carries 144,000 travelers each weekday. It has no median or shoulders, is seismically unsound and scores only 2 out of 100 in California’s bridge condition ratings. Putting it bluntly, if Doyle Drive is not rebuilt in the next few decades, it will become unfit for driving.

What needs to happen now is for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to step up and at least obtain an extension of the March 31 federal funding deadline, so all the contending parties have time to work out an arrangement where costs are fairly shared among all users of Doyle Drive.

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