Bay Area Commuters Face First Bridge Toll Increase Since 2010

Jan. 1 marked the first of three $1 toll increases to fund transit projects aimed at reducing congestion.

Drivers heading across seven Bay Area bridges better remember to carry an extra dollar.

New Year’s Day brought yet another cost-of-living increase in the form of rising bridge tolls, the first such increase since 2010. Bay Area voters opted into the increased bridge tolls over deadlocked traffic in June, by passing a special, once-in-a-generation ballot measure in all nine counties.

Under Regional Measure 3, the second $1 increase comes in 2022 and the final dollar in 2025. By then, the Bay Bridge will cost $9 to cross during rush hour, and the other six state-owned bridges — Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael and San Mateo-Hayward — will charge $8. Until 2022, FasTrak users will pay half the total toll increase, or 50 cents, for a second bridge crossing in a single day. (Notably, the Golden Gate Bridge is managed by a separate authority, one that increased toll rates up to $8 in July and is considering additional hikes.)

It’s easy to gripe about such things, but the scheduled increases are expected to generate $4.45 billion over the next 25 years, to fund public transportation and roadway improvement projects region-wide. And the burden doesn’t completely rest on commuting drivers — it partly fills the $198 billion funding gap for projects through 2040, as outlined by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Of that incoming revenue, Muni is set to receive $140 million for facilities and fleet expansion, BART will have $500 million to add more trains and $375 million to extend to San Jose, and $325 million will go toward San Francisco’s Downtown Caltrain extension. The ferry service will also see $300 million for improvements plus the Clipper card system will get a $50 million upgrade.

Critics first tried to persuade the Bay Area Toll Authority in January not to send the measure to June voters, via a Care2 petition that garnered 57,000 signatures. Although their opposition spoke to the region’s undeniable rising unaffordability, voters were ultimately swayed toward the idea of better public transportation, giving RM 3 some 55 percent of the vote. (Notably, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Marin counties hit the 60 percent range while Solano and Contra Costa counties firmly rejected it with 30 and 45 percent, respectively.)

Toll booths are already set to collect that additional dollar across the board, but the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association could delay implementation of the revenue with a lawsuit filed in July. The lobbying group that brought the infamous property-tax restrictions of Proposition 13 to victory in 1978 is also fighting San Francisco’s Prop. C from June — which funds childcare and early education — that has city leaders skittish to spend November’s Proposition C gross receipts taxes on homelessness.

“We know what most of our needs are for the next 20 years,” Ratna Amin, transportation policy director for urban-planning group SPUR, said in May. “If we don’t have the revenue that Regional Measure 3 creates, we’re going to feel the negative impacts.”

That’s not the only drama our public transit faces. San Francisco supervisors may approve a Treasure Island toll up to $4.50 to target congestion as part of a development project. About 1,800 residents live on the island now, but the population is expected to surpass 20,000 after 8,000 units of housing are completed. After ardent comment from Treasure Island residents and businesses in December, supervisors with the Treasure Island Mobility Management Agency agreed to shelve the toll increase.

But one thing is sure: Between the Howard Jarvis lawsuit and Treasure Island community backlash, debates about the role of Bay Area toll increases are sure to continue into 2019.

Ida Mojadad is a staff writer at SF Weekly. |  @idamoj

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