Doyle Drive fixes will take a toll

Seventy-year-old Doyle Drive, the notoriously inadequate final traffic funnel between San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, has long been among the Bay Area’s most dangerous crash magnets. Along with carrying 91,000 vehicles per day, it also carries the state’s worst seismic stability rating.

But the $810 million price tag for rebuilding the often-gridlocked 1.5-mile road got a major infusion of help Tuesday, as the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that the Bay Area would be awarded $158 million to help fight gridlock.

We were one of only five metropolitan areas chosen for the new Urban Partnership program, which is attempting to reduce oppressively heavy metropolitan traffic by experimenting with futuristic methods that can sometimes be controversial — including tolls, business flex-hours, telecommuting, public transit improvements, digital fee collection and congestion pricing.

All five local projects receiving federal funds are long-needed and could significantly ease the pain of driving through San Francisco or parking downtown.

The SFgo computerized traffic management system is getting $58 million to expand its real-time traffic signal adjustments for smoother vehicular flow through another 500 key intersections. Downtown parking gets $20 million for high-tech meters that collect payment from cell phones, FasTrak or TransLink devices; another $13 million will expand Golden Gate Ferry parking. Software programming to combine FasTrak and TransLink into a truly universal Bay Area transportation pass will get $20 million.

Thisleaves $47 million for Doyle Drive. But $12 million of that must be used for installing an electronic toll collection system within the next nine months. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission could only apply for the money by agreeing to use congestion pricing tolls.

The Doyle Drive toll is likely to be between $1 and $2, and would be reduced or eliminated during off-peak hours. The primary goal of variable pricing is to transfer as much driving as possible to less congested times by creating new advantages for flex-hour employment schedules and public transit ridership.

Toll revenue is to be used entirely to help retire the $190 million funding shortfall on the Doyle Drive replacement. Traffic will not be slowed, because toll collection will be entirely automatic via FasTrak sensors plus cameras that record license numbers so vehicle owners without FasTrak can be invoiced by mail.

Naturally, motorists habituated to driving this road for free will be displeased by an added expense. But a dense and growing urban region such as the Bay Area simply cannot afford to continue losing millions of man-hours and unnecessarily wasting gasoline because of perpetual gridlock.

Congestion pricing is considered generally successful in central London and is an experiment that must soon be attempted in the Bay Area hub. Doyle Drive badly needs the expansion and renovation that might be unacceptably delayed without a congestion pricing agreement.

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