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fistful of bridge bonds

By enelson
Wednesday, November 15th, 2006 at 6:33 pm in Bay Bridge, tolls.

thumb_bridge_underside.jpg

Call me slow, but I just today got around to reading the press release from the Bay Area Toll Authority about the $1 toll increase at the area’s seven state-operated bridges, not including the Golden Gate.

It doesn’t happen until Jan. 1, so I figured I’d wait to do a story until we got a little closer to the blessed event.

I could talk about why the toll is going up to $4, but that would take time and I’m taking the early train home today (ha! no toll!). In a nutshell, it’s to pay for a very photogenic new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Not the concrete slab they’re building out there now, but a more curvy and seductive self-anchored suspension span that will make the East Bay proud to pay that extra buck for the next 70 years.

When I read the release to the bottom, I realized that the point of the early warning was to drum up business for FasTrak, the little electronic transponders that not only pay your toll and help determine freeway driving times for 511.org, but they’re also believed in some Berkeley circles to take over your bank account and notify the CIA of your whereabouts.

The bridges administered by BATA, which is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission with a different set of hats, don’t get enough people using these little radio tags.

So, in January, anyone who has FasTrak will get to keep paying $3 tolls while cash payers pay the extra dollar. So after you’ve saved your $21 in tolls, you join the other poor schlubs. This, BATA hopes, will get more people to go out and get FasTrak.

To make it even more attractive, they’ll start selling the toll tags at Safeway and Costco, pre-loaded with $25 worth of tolls (costing about that, too, but they’re still working out possible discounts). You still have to sign up online, by phone or by mail, but you can spend the $5 right away (i.e., you can drive home) and the other $20 is unlocked when you reveal your secret identity to FasTrak.

All this caused me to ask, for the umpteenth time, why?

Why, I wanted to know, in my childlike innocence, can’t it be Christmas for FasTrak year-round? Why can’t we get a dollar off for sparing BATA and Caltrans the inconvenience of paying a toll taker? How about 50 cents? 25?

The Golden Gate Bridge, which has its own governing authority to decide such things, charges $5 for cash tolls and $4 for people with FasTrak.
“There are billions of dollars in bonds that need to be serviced, primarily for the new east span,” offered the MTC’s John Goodwin. Cutting FasTrakers a permanent break could lead to unhappy creditors.

So why not just raise the cash tolls a bit to encourage more FasTrak use?

For that, Goodwin sent me to the MTC’s Randy Rentschler, who does a bit of lobbying in Sacramento and elsewhere when he’s not schooling the press on the fine points of regional transportation governance.

“We don’t have the authority, really,” he said, explaining that the MTC would have to ask legislators to hit up their constituents for more toll money before any increase can happen.
The upcoming January increase was approved last year, and Rentschler asks:“Has enough time gone by since we’ve been in the legislture asking for an increase in tolls for seismic improvements?”

ooh! ooh! I know! I know! Call on me, Teach!

“We’re not pursuing that.”

Self anchored suspension span photo from www.baybridgeinfo.org.

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2 Responses to “fistful of bridge bonds”

  1. david vartanoff Says:

    Sad the politicians are invertabrates. Bridge tolls should benefit full cars and penalize SOV no matter what payment method.

  2. FTSandy Says:

    There’s another way that FasTrak users on the Bay Bridge could get a break for very little money: give them — us — dedicated lanes leading to and from the toll plaza, and priority treatment at the metering lights. Just as they do with the carpool lanes. There’s a lot of gallows humor in our car about “SloTrak” because often the FasTrak lanes are just as backed up as the cash lanes.

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