Petalumans interested in seeing a host of badly needed transportation projects completed in the North Bay will have the chance to make that happen in June with a ballot measure that would raise Bay Area bridge tolls to pay for the improvements.
If Regional Measure 3 on the June 5 ballot is approved, tolls on seven state-owned Bay Area bridges, not including the Golden Gate, would increase by $1 in January 2019, with subsequent $1 increases in January 2022 and 2025.
The measure would raise $4.5 billion to fund a comprehensive suite of Bay Area highway and transit improvements along with expanded bus and ferry services. Here in the North Bay, we stand to receive $1.1 billion, including $120 million to complete the long delayed Highway 101 widening project from the county line to Novato; $100 million to initiate Highway 37 improvements; and $40 million to extend the SMART train from Santa Rosa to Windsor.
Drivers from Sonoma County represent 2 percent of bridge crossings, according to the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission, yet the county would receive a total of 3 percent of new bridge toll revenues over a 25-year period. That’s a very good deal for Sonoma County, and one we cannot afford to pass up.
Tolls are currently running $5 on the seven affected Bay Area bridges — the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, San Mateo Bridge, Dumbarton Bridge, Benicia Bridge, Carquinez Bridge and Antioch Bridge. By comparison, toll rates for bridges and tunnels in the New York City metropolitan area run between $10.50 and $17.
The ballot measure, which requires a simple majority to pass, comes as state and regional transportation officials are attempting to address an enormous backlog of infrastructure projects after years of underfunding. Thanks to the state legislature’s passage last year of SB1, which allowed a modest increase in the state gas tax, we are starting to see some progress. Until recently, the gas tax had not been increased since 1992, and was never indexed to the cost of inflation.
As a result, numerous road projects across the state have gone unfinished, including the Highway 101 widening here in the North Bay. But next month, county officials hope to win approval of an $80 million grant from SB1 funds that would be used to widen Highway 101 through central Petaluma. Funding to finish the job of expanding the roadway between the county line and Novato could come from Regional Measure 3.
Measure 3 would also help jump start a longterm fix for Highway 37 southeast of Petaluma, a perpetually clogged 21-mile transportation artery that each weekday carries 40,000 motorists with backups extending for miles. According to Caltrans, conventional state and highway funding will not allow a Highway 37 project to get underway for another 70 years.
We’re sorry to have to say this, but Highway 37 will be under water in 70 years due to global warming. That threat of highway inundation became reality in early 2017 when flooding forced Highway 37’s closure for multiple days near the Marin-Sonoma border after rainstorms combined with exceptionally high tides and overtook the road at Novato Creek. So waiting for the state to solve the problem for us in 70 years is not an option.
If Bay Area residents want to see the region’s transportation problems resolved, they are going to need to take action. Regional Measure 3 is the most cost effective method for achieving the goal.