California Dolphin: statewide California news

Traffic or $9 tolls? Bay Area voters to decide which is worse

Voters in all nine Bay Area counties next month will face a difficult choice: endure bridge tolls reaching as high as $9 by 2025 or continue to suffer through seemingly constant traffic gridlock with few viable alternatives.
Regional Measure 3, which will be on the June 5 primary ballot, would raise tolls by $3 over six years on every Bay Area bridge, except the Golden Gate, bringing in $4.45 billion over the next decade.
Those extra funds will help pay for nearly three dozen transportation projects , including more frequent ferry service, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, new BART cars to help the agency run longer trains, a Caltrain extension into downtown San Francisco, the four-station BART extension to San Jose, new toll lanes on major freeways, and interchange improvements, among others .
Supporters say the money is needed to address traffic congestion that regularly turns Bay Area highways into parking lots. But opponents claim the proposed fixes won’t make a dent in gridlock and that the toll unfairly burdens drivers with the cost of projects along bridge corridors they don’t travel or transit services they don’t take.
Traffic backs up on westbound Interstate 580 during the morning commute as seen from the El Charro Road overpass in Livermore, Calif., on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
Suisun City resident Armando Rodriguez wakes up at 3:45 a.m. to make it to his job in Oakland by 6. Every five minutes he spends in bed is another 30 stuck in traffic, he said. So, he wakes up an hour earlier than he needs, just so he’s not battling the crowds.
“If you don’t do that, it’s horrible,” he said.
Despite the way traffic controls his schedule, Rodriguez is weary of promises that the approximately $250 extra he’ll be paying at the toll plaza the first year the measure takes effect — rising to $750 by 2025 — will unclog the bottlenecks choking the region’s major transportation arteries.
“They said that the last time they raised the tolls,” he lamented.
It’s a point not lost on Carl Guardino, the president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a business advocacy organization that led the charge, along with another influential business group, the Bay Area Council, and urban planning think-tank, SPUR, to get the toll increase on the ballot. He’s keenly aware the Bay Area’s traffic problems are partly due to its success as an economic powerhouse and magnet for jobs.
The average Bay Area commuter now spends an average of 32 minutes commuting to work each way, up from 28 minutes in 2011, a 14 percent increase, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the region’s transportation planning agency. People taking transit spend even more time on their commute, about 51 minutes.
“Only a recession,” Guardino said, “will reduce traffic.”
A pedestrian eyes SF Bay Ferry’s new $15 million addition to their fleet , the Hydrus, docked at Pier 9 in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, March 20, 2017. The 400-seat ferry, able to accommodate 50 bicycles, will begin service this week between the East Bay and San Francisco. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 
But that doesn’t mean Bay Area drivers and public transit riders didn’t get some relief from Regional Measure 2, the last $1 toll increase voters approved in 2004 to help pay for traffic solutions, said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the MTC, which was instrumental in crafting the projects that could be funded by the new toll hike.
Regional Measure 2 helped create the Caldecott Tunnel’s fourth bore, pay for BART’s extensions to Warm Springs and Antioch, widen State Route 4, build San Francisco’s central subway, increase ferry service and subsidize buses. The first regional measure, approved in 1988, built the northbound Benicia-Martinez and westbound Carquinez bridges, replaced the Interstate 880 and State Route 92 interchange, rehabbed the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and helped pay for the Dublin/Pleasanton and Pittsburg/Bay Point BART extensions, among other projects.
“Just imagine a Bay Area where voters hadn’t approved those toll (increases) in the past,” he said. “You wouldn’t have Warm Springs, you wouldn’t have a ferry program at all, you wouldn’t have a widened San Mateo Bridge or I-880/SR 92 interchange. Just imagine what that would be like.”
If voters approve Regional Measure 3, the first $1 increase would take effect Jan. 1, 2019, followed by subsequent increases every three years. That would bring the fee to $8 to cross every bridge spanning the bay — with the exception of the Golden Gate, which is not owned by the state, and the Bay Bridge, where tolls would rise to $9 during commute times. The measure needs a simple majority to pass.
Joyce Mason and husband Jake Mason, of Pleasant Hill, from left, try out the seats on one of BART’s new train cars at the Pleasant Hill station in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. The agency is planning to replace its 669 train cars with 775 new ones and rolled out the first two, new 10-car trains earlier this year. (File photo by Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 
That’s a lot for opponents to stomach, even though they agree some solution to the traffic crisis is desperately needed. But they question whether the proposed projects will make a difference in the lives of commuters. Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Walnut Creek, an outspoken critic, went so far as to call the toll increase “extortion” for politicians’ pet projects.
“Our commuters have such tough commutes, they will pay for anything and trust it will somehow improve,” he said.
Rather than trust in their hearts, voters should hold data in their hands, DeSaulnier said, pointing to Seattle and Los Angeles, two cities with lots of congestion and a traffic management plan based on commuters’ travel patterns. The MTC  supplied the legislature with an initial mix of projects, largely based on Plan Bay Area 2040 , a regional planning roadmap updated every five years. But, Rentschler said, in some cases, state senators and representatives added projects or changed the funding amounts of others.
Those projects should be focused on getting solo drivers out of their cars, said Gerald Cauthen, an Oakland resident and former project manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, the transportation engineering firm responsible for building the original BART system. He blasted the inclusion of toll lanes, which allow solo drivers to use the carpool lane for a fee.
Related Articles

Now in voters’ hands: Proposed $3 toll hike moves to the ballot box

Slideshow: $3 toll hike heads to governor’s desk; Here’s how your $8 toll will be spent

$1 or $3, voters likely to approve proposed Bay Area bridge toll hike

How lawmakers want to spend your $3 bridge toll hike

Poll: Voters support $3 bridge toll hike to ease traffic gridlock

“I’m fully sympathetic to the fact that not everyone can use transit,” Cauthen said, “and that’s what makes Regional Measure 3 so disappointing.”
Oakland resident Phillip Weaver sees both sides of the debate. He wishes he spent less time in traffic and that the alternative — sitting on a BART train — wasn’t so uncomfortably crowded. But, it’s also getting hard to afford living in the Bay Area, he said.
“It’s good and it’s bad,” Weaver said. “Yeah, transportation is awesome and traffic is frustrating, so it’s helping (solve that problem). But, inwardly, it’s causing more anxiety and stress and pressure to make more money to be here.”

Top News

Ain't No God; don't even think about theism

UnFox News: not a propaganda arm of the Republican party