As of New Year’s, bridge tolls go up another dollar 

Drivers going over any of the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges will have to bring an extra dollar with them beginning Jan. 1, when tolls are set to rise to $4 for most cars.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved the toll hike on July 18, 2005, to help fund the $6.3 billion construction of the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It is the second such hike in three years, following a $1 increase approved by local voters as part of Regional Measure 2, a transportation-funding measure that took effect Jan. 1, 2004.

The current toll hike was the subject of a political battle, in which Bay Area legislators and groups such as the Bay Area Council fought to get the state to shoulder a larger share of the cost of the Bay Bridge project or get funding from other sources.The compromise reached in July 2005 calls for the state to contribute $630 million and local drivers to pay the $1 increase to fund the project, including more than $3.6 billion in overrun costs.

The only drivers who won’t be digging for more change come January are FasTrak users, who in addition to having their own lanes at the toll plaza will now get a month-long reprieve from the increase. As a promotion to encourage drivers to use the automated toll-payment service, users will only have to pay $3 to cross the bridge for the month of January.

Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority have set up a customer service center at the toll plaza to sign up potential FasTrak users that will be open until Friday, according to Caltrans spokesman Jeff Weiss.

"The most convenient way to sign up is online. When people are driving in their cars, they want to keep going, but the toll plazas do remind people that they want to use FasTrak," Weiss said.

In addition to easing traffic flow at the toll plaza, FasTrak helps reduce pollution by cutting the time drivers have to idle in line, Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said.

FasTrak users will see other benefits in the coming year. Aside from signage and lane-marking improvements, one FasTrak lane will be added to the Dumbarton Bridge, and the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge and Bay Bridge will each get two more lanes in June 2007.

According to BATA, bridge tolls brought in $138,412,277 in the 2005-06 fiscal year. For more information on FasTrak, or to register, visit www.bayareafastrak.org.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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