Golden Gate Bridge directors approve congestion tolling

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Published on March 14, 2008 with No Comments

By Ari Burack

March 14, 2008

The Golden Gate Bridge District Board of Directors today approved a system of higher tolling at the bridge during peak traffic periods — qualifying the Bay Area for millions in federal congestion relief funding — despite serious differences among board members as to how toll proceeds should be spent.

The congestion tolling will be incorporated into the Bridge District’s proposal to raise tolls at the bridge by $1. If approved, the system would go into effect between September and January.

The Bridge District has until September 2009 to put congestion tolling into effect. The specifics of the congestion toll program will be developed over the next few weeks and detailed at a public hearing in June.

The board’s action was prompted by a March 31 deadline to enact congestion tolling in order to receive a $158.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Urban Partnership Program, an initiative to reduce traffic congestion nationwide.

Some of the grant will be used for parking improvements at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and for parking and traffic projects in San Francisco.

Though it is generally agreed that the aging and structurally deficient 1.3-mile span directly south of the bridge must be rebuilt, the Bridge District board today balked at allowing any of the money from its congestion tolls to be used for that purpose.

At a two-hour meeting punctuated by angry exchanges between board members representing San Francisco and the North Bay, a narrowly passed amendment to Thursday’s resolution by the board’s finance committee eliminated any mention of Doyle Drive from the use of toll proceeds.

“The whole notion of using the bridge to collect tolls for San Francisco totally outrages me,” Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan said.

“What we’re doing is, we’re meeting the need for the UPP (Urban Partnership Program) funding…by March 31,” Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders stated. Funding the state-owned Doyle Drive through bridge tolls would be “taxing the North Bay commuter,” she said.

San Francisco Supervisor Jake McGoldrick called the decision to amend the resolution a “serious…break in faith,” after weeks of recent meetings on the issue between local politicians and transportation officials.

McGoldrick argued that Doyle Drive funding was a “common need of this region” and that he wanted to leave the wording in the resolution in order to allow future board members to consider allocating toll monies for the project.

“I’m totally opposed to…taking North Bay money to pay for a gold-plated project,” Sanders responded.

McGlashan added that he felt it was “something the state and feds ought to be paying for anyway.”

San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano’s plea for “regional cooperation” — “and I do look upon this (Doyle Drive) as a regional issue,” he said — went unheeded by the majority of the board, which approved the amended resolution by a 10 to 8 vote.

The wording of the resolution now allows toll proceeds to be used only “to fund congestion relief projects or services provided by the District,” which does not own or maintain Doyle Drive.

San Francisco County Transportation Authority Deputy Planning Director Tilly Chang, whose agency, along with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, is leading the push for Doyle Drive reconstruction, said she was disappointed by the amendment but pleased that the federal money would now be approved.

According to Chang, $59 million of the grant will go toward the Doyle Drive project, boosting the total now secured for the project to $640 million.

The transportation authority will now go about seeking other avenues of federal funding to make up the $370 million shortfall to complete Doyle Drive reconstruction, she said.

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