The contentious dispute between San Francisco and Marin counties over who pays for rebuilding the worn-out Doyle Drive southern connection to the Golden Gate Bridge seems to have reached a new compromise. While that is better than continuing the ongoing standoff, so many details of the latest plan remain unresolved that it is difficult to judge the ultimate workability and fairness.
The previous agreement was for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District board to charge an extra peak-hours toll to help qualify for a $159 million federal grant that required steps being taken to reduce traffic congestion. But U.S. Department of Transportation officials wanted a costlier anti-congestion fee than the $1 proposed by the bridge district.
Somewhat surprisingly, Washington accepted variable-price parking meter increases on some of the more crowded San Francisco streets as an acceptable substitute for bridge congestion tolls. In some ways this makes sense, because the Marin-dominated bridge district had already approved a $1 increase, which will begin Sept. 2, for its own auxiliary uses. Adding another congestion-hours fee would have boosted automobile tolls to a breathtaking $7 for cash payers and $5.50 for FasTrak users — the highest toll ever in the Bay Area.
The Department of Transportation is giving the San Francisco Transportation Authority one year to deliver a practical program for raising meter parking rates in high-congestion corridors during peak commutes and weekend hours. One fallout from the failure to implement a timely congestion toll on the Golden Gate Bridge is that the prior $159 million federal grant has now dropped to $87 million, of which $47 million will go toward the $1.1 billion seismic upgrade of 72-year-old Doyle Drive, according to The Associated Press. Another $20 million would help fund new variable-price parking meters and other costs.
The Transportation Authority is still hoping the bridge district will help fund Doyle Drive repairs by adding some sort of “seismic surcharge” to existing bridge tolls. This would be fair, since North Bay commuters pound much of the wear and tear into Doyle Drive. However, we are not too optimistic about seeing more money from the bridge board and would be pleasantly surprised if we do.
When The City first sought to have motorists who use Doyle Drive help pay for repairs, North Bay politicians and media howled about the alleged “Marin commuter tax” for fixing a San Francisco street. The district director majority refused to even collect a Doyle Drive fee at bridge toll booths, let alone contribute from district revenues.
Caltrans ranks Doyle Drive as the second-worst roadway in California, with a score of 2 out of 100. It is a time-bomb waiting to collapse, and at this point it seems as if the bill for fixing it will go to peak-hour drivers seeking to park on central San Francisco streets.