Proposed $3 bridge toll hike clears major hurdle, moves closer to ballot box

SACRAMENTO — A proposal to increase bridge tolls by up to $3 and increase capacity in the Bay Area’s major transportation arteries cleared a major hurdle Wednesday after it secured approval from the state Assembly.

The bill will now head to the Senate for a up or down vote before making its way to the governor’s desk. It’s likely voters will see the toll increase on their ballots in either June or November next year.

The current version of the bill allocates more money for transportation improvements in Contra Costa and Alameda counties and mandates BART create an Independent Office of the Inspector General to increase fiscal oversight of the transit agency. The bill would partially fund some 35 transit projects, all of which are aimed at reducing congestion on bridge corridors. Money from the bill is dedicated to expanding BART’s capacity by adding more train cars, increasing ferry and bus service, adding more express lanes, improving interchanges and adding new rail service in some areas.

The bill’s author, state Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose, said the proposed toll hike is intended to address the Bay Area’s growing pains. On any given weekday, more than 600,000 vehicles enter and exit the Bay Area, he said, and with the continued growth of the tech industry, that number will only grow.

“Let’s take action now to curb traffic before it becomes worse,” he said in a statement released Wednesday.

Leaders of both the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represent employers across the region, applauded the Assembly vote. Council president and CEO Jim Wunderman said it’s up to residents in the Bay Area to invest in the transportation improvements they want to see. That means making a choice, said leadership group CEO Carl Guardino, who also serves on the California Transportation Commission.

“(This bill) simply enables voters and commuters in the nine-county Bay Area a voice and a choice: to vote for or against specific traffic relief improvements or to leave our economy and quality of life at a crawl,” he said.

Still, other groups were less supportive. BART board President Rebecca Saltzman said she wasn’t sure that an Inspector General would improve transparency beyond the regular audits of BART’s finances, and it wasn’t clear whether the new position would come out of BART’s operating budget or from the toll revenues.

And East Bay Leadership Council President Kristin Connelly questioned whether the bridge toll was the best …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business

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