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power play across the Bay

By enelson
Wednesday, July 26th, 2006 at 11:44 pm in Bay Bridge, Funding, Retrofitting, tolls.

sign_overhead_lines.gifIn one short lesson, I learned this week why it has taken so long to build the new Bay Bridge.

It seemed like such a small thing, a new cable to bring extra power to future development on Treasure Island.

Then it seemed an outrage: Metropolitan Transportation Commission members, sitting with their Bay Area Toll Authority hats on, were going to use bridge toll money to pay for this cable.

Adding to the outrage was that a representative of Pacific Gas & Electric showed up, dramatically offered to put in the cable and held up a check for $3.4 million that  Caltrans could take to the bank immediately.

But then it seemed reasonable again, when it was explained at the BATA meeting Wednesday that the existing cable was in the way of segments of the new bridge, and would have to be moved as part of the project for about $6 million.

And then …

It seemed BATA was about to loan the very $3.4 million PG&E offered to pay to the Treasure Island Development Authority. This was to be a “betterment,’’ something tacked onto a project that’s not a replacement for something that’s in the way, as the existing cable is, but an extra, as in, “While you’re at it, why don’t you …’’

This apparently hit a nerve among East Bay pols and business organizations, not to mention people who pay tolls and pay attention to such things. They turned out in force at the BATA meeting on Wednesday.

“I was very disappointed to see that this body would even consider such a violation of public trust as to take money that was taken from the voters as a good faith effort to do seismic retrofits on the bridge and use it for such an unrelated project,’’ said Jill Buck, Republican nominee for the state Assembly district that includes San Leandro, Hayward and Dublin.

On the commission, such sentiments were represented by Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. He managed to get an off-the-cuff measure on the table for discussion (I’d never seen anyone do this before, but I’m new) that would have stripped the extra cable, so to speak, from the proposal.

“ I’m not interested in looking for a repayment plan that takes it out to 2012,’’ Haggerty said, reminding me that BART is just beginning to pay back the MTC $60 million it borrowed in 1999. The BART money, also borrowed from toll receipts, was earmarked for East Bay rail improvements, but was loaned out to pay for overruns on the BART extension to the San Francisco International Airport.

A sore spot, you see.

And the very mention of “Treasure Island’’ is another sore spot.

Trying to get the U.S. Navy to agree to how the new Bay Bridge was going to land on the island delayed the project for years and took White House intervention to resolve.

So one could understand how the cable might get people excited.

Add to that the fact that the City of San Francisco has, some told the commission, a thing about supplying public power where PG&E now holds sway.

The general manager of the city’s utilities commission, Susan Leal, said it was already providing power to the island.

“We are quite taken aback that we have been on this island, pulling together that infrastructure, providing the power and now over the past 18 months, we have been working with the navy, with tita, with Caltrans and with this agency, and now at the last minute we are being accused of some kind of power play. This is not about public power.’’

In the end it was not about any of those things.

Bay Bridge Loma Prieta 89.bmpIt was about building a bridge.

Caltrans has agreements with the Navy and San Francisco’s island development agency and coming up with a new agreement could only mean delays, PG&E’s guarantees notwithstanding.

And the city guaranteed repayment of the loan with its state highway money, which has to pass through the MTC’s hands first.

“It’s important to understand that we do have a $3 million tail wagging a $5.4 billion dog here,’’ noted Tony Anziano, who runs Caltrans’ Toll Bridge Program. “One month delay on the current skyway project represents about $6 million in additional cost.’’

And 17 years after the Loma Prieta Earthquake took a life on the bridge and told us we needed a better bridge, the commission needed more than a loose wire to delay it further.

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