The measure, which originated as state Sen. Jim Beall's Senate Bill 595, has plenty of local champions, including state Sen. Jerry Hill and state Assemblyman Marc Berman, who see it as a sorely needed investment in the region's transportation system.
Yet the measure also has some prominent Democratic detractors, including Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel. Simitian sees the measure as too punitive toward Bay Area drivers, noting that the toll hike could cost a regular bridge commuter an additional $750 annually. For Siegel, the measure doesn't go far enough in addressing congestion on the Midpeninsula, particularly around the State Route 85 corridor.
If approved, RM3 would authorize three $1 increases at the seven state-owned toll bridges: Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael, San Mateo-Hayward and the Bay Bridge (the Golden Gate is operated by its own district). The toll hikes would kick in on Jan. 1, 2019, on Jan. 1, 2022, and on Jan. 1, 2025. The series of increases would ultimately raise the bridge tolls from $5 to $8, with discounts for those commuters who cross more than one bridge during their commutes.
The regional measure has two precedents: a 1988 measure that standardized fees at state bridges at $1, and a 2004 measure that added another $1 to the tolls. The state Legislature also approved a pair of $1 increases in 1997 and 2007 and the Bay Area Toll Authority added another $1 in 2010.
But while each of the prior two regional measures called for a $1 toll increase, the latest proposal would authorize three such hikes. For some critics of RM3, that's excessive. Simitian noted that a $3 toll increase for the daily commuter translates to an extra $15 per week and over the course of a year, more than $750 extra.
"That's pretty steep, and it's regressive, and it hits people who don't have choices, many of whom live in the East Bay and are trying to get to work in San Francisco or in Silicon Valley," he said. "They certainly don't have the option to move here given what our rents and mortgages are, and transit options are still limited and imperfect at best."
Supporters of RM3 counter that while bridge commuters, like much of the population, understandably dislike toll hikes, most hate traffic even more. RM3 would fund 35 projects, many of which cross county lines. In the Midpeninsula area, this would include $130 million for Dumbarton Corridor improvements — which could result in added bus service across the bridge, bus-only lanes on Bayfront Expressway, an Amtrak extension to Redwood City, and improved BART connections in the East Bay, among other potential projects; and $50 million for ramp improvements at the U.S. Highway 101 and State Route 92 interchange. (The exact projects that would be funded have not been decided upon.)
The Dumbarton Bridge Corridor, which would receive $130 million of the $4.45 billion dollars collected.
The exact list of projects is not spelled out in the measure, but according to a Metropolitan Transportation Commission report, eligible projects would be drawn in part from the 2017 Dumbarton Corridor Transportation Study by SamTrans, which includes plans in the near term to add bus service from the East Bay to Menlo Park and Redwood City, bus-only lanes on Bayfront Expressway, an extension of the Amtrak Capitol Corridor service to Redwood City, and various road configurations and signal changes to speed public transit.
Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, didn't dispute Simitian's characterization of the measure as "regressive" but noted that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has tried to offset that by giving 50 percent discounts to drivers who cross two state-owned bridges (which would largely apply to Solano County commuters). The organization is also in the process of developing a program to reduce transit fares by 30 to 50 percent for low-income individuals.
Guardino, whose group is advocating for RM3's passage, said the $4.5 billion is a crucial tier in a layer-cake of funding sources that also includes county, state and federal (admittedly, the last of these is now crumbling). Sacramento lawmakers helped address the state layer last year, when they passed Senate Bill 1, a transportation bill that includes more than $50 billion for transportation improvements.
The state bill is a critical revenue source, said Guardino, who also serves on the California Transportation Commission, which is charged with allocating SB1 money for transit improvements, highway upgrades and other transportation projects. But the SB1 funds fall well short of what's needed to solve the Bay Area's transportation problems, Guardino said. RM3 supplements these funds by focusing on projects that "almost entirely cross county lines," he said.
Sen. Hill said he decided to support the bill because he approved of the way the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) developed its list of projects — through its staff. He said he made it clear to the agency that he doesn't want to see politics involved in the decision making, with commissioners trying to get the most for their particular cities.
"These are not politically motivated," Hill said. "They are the ones most ready to build. Best bang for the buck; not best for a certain area."
But from Siegel's perspective, the commission's failure to get feedback from his city and others in the area is one of the reasons he does not support RM3. Siegel, who serves on the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's (VTA's) Policy Advisory Committee, said he was surprised that his committee — which includes local officials from cities throughout the county — never had a chance to offer its feedback on the list of projects.
Assemblyman Berman, an avid supporter of RM3, argued that many projects would directly help his constituents in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The funding for the Dumbarton Corridor is particularly critical, he said, because it will address the congested approaches to the corridor and create more efficient ways, especially for public transit, to get around.
"This will have a huge impact on traffic along the corridor, right through north Palo Alto," Berman said, noting the heavy congestion that Crescent Park neighborhood residents experience every day as the commuter caravan makes its way east along University Avenue toward Dumbarton in the evening.
Berman said he worked with Hill and state Assemblyman Kevin Mullin to raise the allocation for the Dumbarton corridor from $100 million to $130 million and to ensure that $50 million was carved out specifically for the U.S. Highway 101-State Route 92 interchange.
"When you're looking for a win-win it means everyone will feel like they lost a little," Berman said. "And when you're trying to create a nine-county transportation measure, no one will get everything they wanted. But I think every city and county will benefit from the overall package, which is just one tool in our toolshed for trying to address our transportation-congestion crisis."
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