Initiative to raise Bay Area bridge tolls nears resolution

October 26, 2020

Keith Goble


The state of California’s top court soon will review the legality of a change to Bay Area bridge tolls.

The California Supreme Court has agreed to take up a challenge to a voter-approved initiative to raise bridge tolls in the San Francisco area. Previously, the First District Court of Appeals sided with area transportation officials to keep planned toll increases on track.

Regional Measure 3

In June 2018, voters in the San Francisco area approved Regional Measure 3 to pay more to cross bridges to secure more money for transportation work throughout the region.

By a 55 % to 45 % margin, voters in the city and county of San Francisco and the other eight Bay Area counties approved a question to double bridge tolls. The additional revenue is touted to help get $4.45 billion in transportation work done over the next 25 years, including a project to reduce truck traffic.

Approval of Measure 3 required a simple majority of votes cast in all nine counties.

A majority of voters in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma counties agreed to increase toll rates by $3 over six years on the seven state-operated bridges in the area.

The Golden Gate Bridge is exempt. The bridge is run independently of the state.

The first $1 increase took effect on Jan. 1, 2019. Subsequent $1 increases are slated for Jan. 1, 2022, and Jan. 1, 2025.

After 2025, tolls could be increased for inflation.

Waiting game

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association continues to challenge the measure’s outcome. The group argues the toll increase should be considered a tax increase.

California law requires two-thirds of voters to approve a change in tax collection.

The First District Court of Appeals sided with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Toll Authority that the tolls are not taxes. Instead, the court agreed the higher tolls are a fee increase.

A San Francisco superior court later had the same interpretation.

In July, the taxpayers group asked the California Supreme Court to review the case. The state’s high court this month voted unanimously to grant review of the case.

In the meantime, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Toll Authority continue to hold on to toll funds approved by voters until the high court makes its decision on the issue.

Truck projects included

Approval of Measure 3 is touted to benefit 35 projects intended to take vehicles off the road and eliminate bottlenecks on the Bay Area’s most heavily traveled routes.

An estimated $160 million will be designated for projects to reduce truck traffic congestion and mitigate environmental effects.

Eligible projects include improvements in Alameda County to enable more goods to be shipped by rail, and access improvements to Interstates 580, 80, and 880, and to the Port of Oakland.

A separate project covers I-80 westbound truck scales. Specifically, $105 million is set to be allotted to “improve freight mobility, reliability, and safety” on the I-80 corridor by funding improvements to the westbound truck scales in Solano County. LL

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