Seventy years ago, the Golden Gate Bridge and its southern access road, Doyle Drive, were built on the financial backs of the homeowners of the northern counties. They formed a special district and mortgaged their homes to pay for it. Soon after, Doyle Drive was handed over to the state of California.
"It got handed over to the state in the 1940s and the purpose, was to, oddly enough, replace Doyle Drive. The purpose was to build a big eight-lane, four lanes in each direction, freeway that connected the Embarcadero freeway," says Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
A variety of extravagant designs included one that sent Doyle Drive out into the bay, beside the Marina. However, San Franciscans revolted against plans for a city dissected by freeways and the Doyle replacement was shelved.
"Right now we're seeking to solve a problem that is obviously difficult to solve. It has not been solved in 50 years, but we're trying to solve it now," says Rentschler.
Doyle Drive is a disaster waiting to happen. The one-and-a-half-mile road has no shoulders and no median. It's 70-years old and needs seismic upgrading. It gets a structural safety rating of 2 out of 100. The bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis last year was a 50.
"To think that the state or the feds are going to come in and solve this problem is essentially to say, sure they will, but what are the circumstances behind that? It'll have to fall down," says Rentschler.
The current replacement project has a price tag of more than $1 billion. So far the city, the state, and the federal government have committed to a combined $640 million worth. But that leaves a $370 million gap.
"The counties in the North Bay, Marin and Sonoma, despite the fact that they contribute to 60 to 70 percent of the traffic on Doyle Drive, have not stepped up to the plate to offer their financial contribution. That's something we hope will change and soon," says Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.
His agency has led the effort to replace Doyle Drive. Moscovich and the MTC say there is no more money available from the state or the feds and they're calling on the North Bay counties and/or the Golden Gate Bridge District to help, either through tolls, a sales tax or whatever works.
"The bridge board can act as a proxy for Marin and Sonoma counties in securing a contribution into the project or it can decide to separate itself from that, but what it cannot do is completely skirt the issue that Doyle Drive needs money from the people using Doyle Drive to get rebuilt," says Moscovich.
But the bridge district is already raising tolls to cover its own budget gap and thinks the state should find a way to pay for the state road. They think it's unfair to North Bay residents.
"The crux of the matter for many of the board members is that they envision all users of Doyle Drive in some way helping with the reconstruction funding, if in fact, the Golden Gate Bridge toll payers are going to be asked to help pay for that reconstruction," says Marie Currie, spokesperson for the Golden Gate Bridge District.
Napa County supervisor and MTC chairman, Bill Dodd, thinks the North Bay should help pay, and he's working on it.
"Supervisor Kinsey from Marin County, Mayor Al Boro from San Rafael, myself, and others are trying to meet behind the scenes to see if we can cool down the rhetoric and find a solution that makes sense for everybody," says Dodd.
They'll have to work fast. The project just gets more expensive over time, and of course it's just a question of when, not if, the next big one will hit.
For more information on the Doyle Drive Replacement Project, visit the San Francisco County Transportation Authority's Web site.