Now along comes Regional Measure 3, which asks voters in nine Bay Area counties to approve three successive $1 increases in bridge tolls on all Bay Area bridges except the Golden Gate Bridge. The new tolls will increase the cost of crossing a bridge from the current $5 to $8 by 2025, and will thereafter be increased with the rise of the Consumer Price Index. The new tolls are expected to generate about $4.5 billion for transportation capital projects throughout the Bay Area. To pass, a majority of voters in each county must approve the measure.
Supporters, which include major business groups and most Bay Area elected officials, consider toll increases to be a way other than tax increases to generate more funding for the 35 identified transportation improvements located in each of the nine counties.
The projects identified that could most directly impact the Midpeninsula would be designed to improve the Dumbarton Bridge corridor, which would receive $130 million. These could include improved bus service, bus-only lanes on the Bayfront Expressway in Menlo Park and new connecting bus service with Amtrak and BART in the East Bay. Measure 3 proceeds would not fund improvements to the bridge itself.
We join with Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian in opposing Regional Measure 3.
Bridge tolls are a regressive tax that inappropriately target lower-paid service workers who can't afford housing on the Peninsula (or in San Francisco) but commute here to jobs at restaurants, retail stores, schools, nursing homes and other non-tech small businesses. These commuters, who must pay for their gas and bridge tolls in after-tax dollars, will face the need to make an extra $1,000 a year to pay, after taxes, just for the increase in bridge tolls.
Funding important regional transportation infrastructure projects should ideally come through state tax revenues, which are progressive in their distribution of the tax burden. That is exactly what was achieved with the passage of SB1 last year by the California Legislature, which will fund more than $50 billion in transit improvements.
RM3's toll increases, along with the implementation of inflation escalators, ask for too much and attempt to leverage the public's frustration over bad traffic to disproportionately penalize bridge commuters — a small fraction of voters and therefore an easy target.
Bay Area business leaders and their advocacy organizations such as Silicon Valley Leadership Group need to work more on the root cause of our transportation problems — the continued approvals of new commercial development on the Peninsula without the housing needed to accommodate the employees. Until that becomes their priority, taxpayers will continue to be pressured to pay for transportation improvements that seek the impossible: the accommodation of the ever-increasing number of workers commuting long distances from affordable housing.
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