Transportation officials consider plan for commuters to pay tolls on busy Bay Area freeways

ByGloria Rodríguez and Suzanne Phan KGO logo
Thursday, December 1, 2022
Could you be paying to drive on busy Bay Area freeways in near future?
Transportation officials are considering the proposal as part of an effort to ease traffic congestion and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The future of Bay Area commuters could include tolls, not only at bridges but also on freeways.

Transportation officials are considering the proposal as part of an effort to ease traffic congestion and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Officials say congestion is mounting, partly because they've kept the user price of driving on freeways down.

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Officials are considering the Plan Bay Area 2050, a joint project between the MTC and Association of Bay Area Governments. They say the tolling idea would include all lanes of certain freeways-not just the express lanes.

"Those include Interstate-80, really all the way through Solano County, Contra Costa County, Alameda County to the Bay Bridge, both 101 and 280 along the peninsula," said John Goodwin with Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The plan includes transportation strategies, one of them being charging drivers per-mile on some congested freeway corridors where there are transit alternatives. There would be discounts for carpoolers, low-income residents and off-peak travel.

Many of the corridors under consideration for tolling have public transportation options like BART or CalTrain that run parallel to the road.

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During a presentation earlier this month, officials argued it is no longer feasible to keep widening freeways to meet demand.

"All too often transportation on the freeway is not fast and not reliable," said Goodwin. "Given that we're not going to be building extra freeways, the capacity we have now, is the capacity we're going to have for the next generation."

Goodwin said that's why transportation authorities are looking for options to improve congestion.

Tolling could vary in pricing depending on the time of day.

"The concept of tolling is similar to the way electric companies charge more when we consume power during certain hours of the day," said Alex Eisenhart, of the MTC, during the November 17 presentation, which was supposed to contain the same information presented Tuesday evening.

Officials mentioned they recognized pricing presents serious equity concerns for those who have no choice but to drive. They also brought up concerns that other corridors that don't charge would be congested.

It would cost $1 billion to implement the plan. This is still a proposal and not a done deal. There have been no suggestions for how much the tolls would cost.

Right now, the freeway tolling idea is part of a two-year study. If it gets the green light, it wouldn't go into effect until 2035 or much later, said Goodwin.

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