San Francisco area bridge toll increase clears another hurdle

July 14, 2020

Keith Goble

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A California appeals court has upheld a voter-approved initiative to raise bridge tolls in the San Francisco area.

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.

Not so fast

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association challenged 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 has 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 had the same interpretation a year ago.

Officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Toll Authority said they are pleased with the court’s decision.

“While we were confident the election process the Legislature approved and MTC followed would again be supported by the court, we are even more excited to finally unlock the toll funds approved by voters and put those dollars to work on dozens of much-needed projects to provide both mobility and jobs throughout the Bay Area,” MTC/BATA Chair and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty said in prepared remarks.

The issue, however, is likely not settled. The taxpayers association can decide to take its challenge to the California Supreme Court.

Toll plaza for the Benicia Martinez Bridge in the north San Francisco Bay Area.
Toll plaza for the Benicia Martinez Bridge in the north San Francisco Bay Area. (Andrei – stock.adobe.com)

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.

More Land Line coverage of news from California is available.

 

Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.