Bridge toll proposal drives forward 

The Golden Gate Bridge toll could climb to as much as $7 by next year — nearly twice as much as the seven other Bay Area bridges.

It currently costs $5 to cross the iconic span and a $1 increase is expected to be authorized in July. In addition, a $1 congestion fee is making it way through the approval process, which would target commuters during peak drive times in attempt to reduce the number of cars on the road during those time periods.

FasTrak holders, who currently pay $4, will also be hit with the $1 toll increase, but would be charged either 50 cents or $1 under the congestion-based pricing recommendations.

The congestion fee would be added during the weekday commute times of 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m., as well as on weekends and holidays from 3 to 7 p.m., according to recommendations approved by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s finance committee Thursday.

The toll increase and the congestion fee could go into effect as early as September, but, according to dictrict spokeswoman Mary Currie, the $1 base increase would likely go into effect around January 2009; it mightnot be until September 2009 before the variable toll is in place. The Bay Area’s seven other bridges, all administered by the California Department of Transportation, charge a $4 one-way toll.

The $1 toll increase is expected to help reduce a five-year $90 million projected budget shortfall for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. The congestion toll is a condition of a federal grant that secured $159 million for regional tranportation projects aimed at reducing congestion.

The bridge district projects to make $3.8 million annually in variable toll revenue if a 50-cent increase is attached to FasTrak card holders. If the FasTrak cost goes up by $1, then the bridge would get $5.2 million annually.

The full board will vote on the toll recommendations today, and if approved, a public input process will begin, culminating with a June 11 hearing in San Rafael, according to Currie. By July the board could vote to finalize both toll-increase proposals.

Susan Deluxe, an artist based out of Tiburon, said the toll increases will keep many Marin County residents from visiting San Francisco.

"This really makes us feel unwelcome to The City," Deluxe said. "A lot of my friends don’t have services performed in San Francisco anymore. And no one wants to work in San Francisco, because beyond the gas and parking issues, you’ve got this problem of increasingly exorbitant toll prices."

Hike won’t aid Doyle Drive

A traffic-based toll could rake in more than $5 million per year from Bay Area drivers, but none of that revenue will go toward upgrading Doyle Drive, the seismically unstable southern approach to the bridge.

Bridge officials first approved the toll plan in March as a way to secure a $158.7 million federal grant that required a congestion-based toll in the Bay Area. Of that grant, $58 million is earmarked toward the Doyle Drive rebuild, but the rehabilitation project still remains $370 million short of its $1.01 billion in project costs.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Transportation Authority officials were planning for some of the variable-toll revenue to go toward improving Doyle Drive, which has a two rating out of 100 on the Federal Highway Administration’s structural safety index.

The Marin County members of the bridge board cried foul, however, since the toll would affect the residentsthey represented, but would go to replace a San Francisco roadway.

At the bridge district’s March meeting, the directors approved an amendment stating that all funding from the variable toll would go solely toward improving the district’s public transit fleet, which includes buses and ferries. The amendment was approved by a 10-8 vote, with all dissenting votes coming from San Francisco board members.

— Will Reisman

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Will Reisman

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