Bay Area drivers pay for bridge improvements

December 17, 2008 6:47:10 PM PST
The Antioch Bridge opened in 1978, the Dumbarton in 1982, but Caltrans engineers say they would not be safe during an earthquake and retrofitting them will cost nearly $1 billion.

"The first question that comes to mind is, 'how are we going to pay for this,'" Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger said.

When the funding to retrofit other Bay Area bridges was worked out, the two newst bridges were not included in the plan.

Heminger told the Bay Area Toll Authority it will need an additional $140 million in revenue per year at a time when the number of toll payers is declining.

"For years now we have seen a decline in traffic levels on the bridges and toll-paying traffic is the mother's milk of the enterprise; that's how we pay all the bills here," Heminger said.

Heminger says the funding strategy includes cutting costs, better collection of toll violations, state or federal funding and increasing tolls on all seven of the Bay Area's state-owned bridges.

"Even if we hit a home run on the first three, we're still going to need to raise tolls," Heminger said.

There are three options being proposed for increased tolls, all three involve a $1 increase for cars. The variations include anywhere from a $1 - $5 increase per axle for trucks and making carpoolers start paying up to $3.

Carpools are the only category that have not seen any increase since 1992 even though there are more carpools than toll payers on the Bay Bridge during the morning commute.

"Carpools, which are free only in the Bay Area, haven't gone up at all, so you get a big travel-time savings and you used to save maybe $1, well now you're saving $4, so really the issue is fairness, so what is a fair plan to raise the money that needs to be raised to make those bridges safe," Randy Rentschler, also of the MTC said.


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