Regional Measure 3 Would Slip a $3 + Bridge Toll Hike Past the Voters

Dick Spotswood, Marin Independent Journal, May 27, 2018 How to vote on Regional Measure 3 is an easy call. That’s the proposition on the June 5 ballot to raise tolls on all seven Caltrans-operated Bay Area bridges by $3. The independently managed Golden Gate Bridge isn’t affected by the measure.

If you trust the Metropolitan Transportation Commission – the indirectly appointed regional agency behind the proposition – to spend the money wisely, then vote yes. If not, vote no. It’s as simple as that.

MTC’s recent track record of improving freeway traffic is negligible. Its promotion of a 24/7 bikeway on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge’s upper westbound deck and its preliminary consideration of a half-billion-dollar bikeway boondoggle on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge raise red flags regarding MTC’s trustworthiness to spend the toll hike’s proceeds prudently.

If passed by a simple majority of voters combined from the nine Bay Area counties, tolls will increase by $1 in 2019, $1 more in 2022 and the final $1 in 2025. For Richmond-San Rafael Bridge commuters, when the $3 increase is fully in place the daily transbay toll will be $8. Over a 245-day work year each commuter will pay what’s essentially a $1,960 tax to cross the San Pablo Bay span. The $3 increase alone will annually cost each motorist $735.

Taxes are a necessity of civilized life and given California’s deteriorating infrastructure and ever-worsening traffic, the money to improve our regional mobility system above basic maintenance needs to come from some form of taxation. The underlying question is whether MTC will get the best bang for each toll buck.

A component of Regional Measure 3 is a $4.5 billion “traffic relief plan” officially includes “35 projects and programs” to reduce auto and truck traffic; relieve crowding on BART; improve bus, ferry and commuter rail services; and “enhance bicycle and pedestrian mobility in bridge corridors.”

The real estate development and technology industries which are largely funding the “Yes on RM 3” campaign have seen to it that a substantial portion of the projects benefits the tech-heavy southern end of San Francisco Bay.

That’s one reason why that or any other regional measure can’t lose at the ballot box. The trick is to load up popular freeway and transit programs in well-populated counties, guaranteeing a substantial regional ballot box majority.

Santa Clara and Southern Alameda counties are RM3 winners. Their geography dictates the South Bay isn’t as bridge-dependent as much of the Bay Area. With ample benefits and little impact from toll increases, voters there should easily push the measure over the top. Add to that benefit-rich San Francisco, which tends to vote for anything that costs other people money, and it’s obvious the very electoral concept behind all regional measures predicts RM3’s certain passage.

The relative loser is Contra Costa County. Its commuters are highly dependent on five bay and Sacramento River toll bridges. Collectively Contra Costans will proportionately pay more and receive less benefit than in other regions.

Amazingly, Marin and Sonoma counties come out on the plan’s plus side with $500 million between them. Given RM3 doesn’t directly impact the Golden Gate Bridge and Marinites’ relatively low Richmond bridge usage – most crossings are made by East Bay residents – the measure provides substantial North Bay benefits. That includes finishing widening Highway 101’s Novato-Petaluma Narrows; preliminary design work to elevate and widen Novato-Vallejo’s sinking Highway 37; and revamping San Rafael’s notorious Interstate 580/Highway 101 interchange to improve eastbound traffic flow to the Richmond bridge.

RM3 also includes $40 million to platinum-plate SMART’s 3.5-mile Santa Rosa Airport-to-Windsor extension and $30 million for a new San Rafael transit center needed when

SMART’s initial management incompetently failed to analyze how trains and buses would interface in the Mission City.

Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley writes on local issues Sundays and Wednesdays. Email him at spotswood@comcast.net.

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