Somehow the numbers for upgrading the 71-year-old Doyle Drive approach to the Golden Gate Bridge seem a bit unbalanced. So far, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority has toiled for a decade to secure $640 million in local, state and federal sources for the $1.06 billion Doyle Drive restoration, even though The City’s drivers only account for 16 percent of the 144,000 daily vehicles on the state-owned road.
Meanwhile, Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties, which account for 60 percent to 70 percent of Doyle Drive traffic, have contributed exactly zero funding. And as the clock ticks down on what the U.S. Department of Transportation says is an absolutely firm March 31 deadline for a special $158.7 million federal grant, the North Bay majority on the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District Board of Directors drags its feet about taking on any responsibility to help finance — or even collect tolls — for fixing the outmoded southern approach to the bridge. Furthermore, the pressure continues to mount as Sacramento needs to pass legislation to allow a toll on Doyle Drive and that needs to be approved by the March 31 federal deadline.
The sole non-negotiable bottom line is that the $158.7 million federal grant requires implementation of a demand-based user toll. The award is part of an experimental Urban Partnership program, seeking to reduce oppressively heavy metropolitan traffic with controversial new methods such as flex-hour tolls, digital fee collection and congestion pricing.
A united front is absolutely essential for finalizing federal/state elements of the multilevel funding package, according to the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Another Golden Gate board meeting is due next week and José Luis Moscovich, executive director of the SFCTA, insists that San Francisco officials have been open to accepting all reasonable demands already put forth by North Bay representatives.
Moscovich’s last-ditch goal now is to attain consensus for an “enabling bill” that would satisfy the federal deadline by submitting a “road map” in which all parties agree to impose the toll — after completion of agreements on a set of conditions with specific deadlines. This deal could well be accomplished, but only if the North Bay politicians are willing to be practical and negotiate realistically instead of continuing to grandstand for their commuting voters.
If the enabling bill is not achieved in time, the hefty federal grant would simply be offered to one of the 30 other candidate cities beaten out by San Francisco. And Doyle Drive would still need to be rebuilt — except it would now have to somehow replace the lost $158.7 million funding. And inflationary cost rises would make the project as much as $60 million more expensive for each year of delay.
For anyone doubting how badly Doyle Drive needs replacement, the following two number sets will make the case. Doyle Drive scores only two out of 100 in standard bridge condition ratings because it has no median or shoulders, is seismically unsound and too narrow for current traffic flow. In comparison, the Minneapolis bridge that suddenly collapsed during rush hour last year was rated 50 out of 100. And no politician would risk taking blame for that sort of tragedy, so stop the posturing and make a deal.