Driving across the Bay Bridge could cost $6 as early as the middle of next year.
The suggested toll hike is one of three proposals that would have Bay Area drivers paying more to cross the seven state-owned bridges in the region. The money would raise more than $160 million for regional infrastructure projects.
Two of the three plans, from the Bay Area Toll Authority, include proposals for a $5 toll at all times on the Bay Area’s toll bridges, with the exception of the Golden Gate Bridge, along with options for raising rates for truckers and carpoolers.
The third plan includes a $2 hike for the Bay Bridge during peak commute times, which would most likely be from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the work week.
Drivers traveling over the span during off-peak times would pay the current $4 toll, and weekend motorists would pay $5. The other six bridges — the Antioch, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael, Benicia and San Mateo-Hayward — would have $5 tolls under the proposal.
That plan garnered the most support and attention Wednesday at a committee meeting of the Bay Area Toll Authority, the regional body responsible for managing the seven bridges.
Charging more for the Bay Bridge during the morning and evening commute hours, referred to as “congestion management,” is considered a way to manage traffic and encourage commuters to shift to public transit while raising revenue.
If the congestion-based toll is approved, it would be most effective as a 12- to 18-month test project, so that planning officials could evaluate its impact on traffic, according to Steve Heminger, president of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the regional body that oversees BATA. If an evaluation finds the congestion toll was an effective traffic management tool, it would likely become permanent, Heminger said.
On Wednesday, many members of BATA’s oversight committee expressed support for the toll, with some commissioners suggesting that the increase should be as high as $10 during the busiest traffic times.
“I know some people are going to say, ‘oh there’s BATA, raising tolls again,’” said Scott Haggerty, a member representing Alameda County. “But this is truly about providing funding for safe infrastructure.”
With dwindling traffic levels, increasing debt-financing rates and the need for retrofitting projects on the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges, the authority must raise $160 million on an annual basis to balance its budget, according to Toll Authority documents.
Some Bay Area commuters are skeptical that a toll hike would be about managing traffic. Michael Steel, 54, carpools every day from Oakland to San Francisco. Along with being “extremely unhappy” about the plans to charge carpoolers $3, Steel expressed serious doubts about BATA’s intentions.
“If they say this is about congestion management, that’s a lie,” Steel said. “This is purely a move to raise revenue. It’s as simple as that.”
The full Bay Area Toll Authority is scheduled to vote on the toll increase proposal Jan. 27. If one of the proposals is approved, the new toll rates would go into effect July 1.
The Bay Bridge and the six other state-owned bridges in the Bay Area will likely see a toll increase in the middle of next year. The cost and toll times are under consideration.