Calif to spend $billion+ on pretty Presidio Parkway without even talk of tolls, but want P3!?!

January 26, 2010

There's been much talk of a budget problem in the state of California, a "crisis" even. Piffle and hooey. They're obviously rolling in money. They're just launching the pretty - and pretty pricey - Presidio Parkway project. $1 billion+. And according to an official on the project, there was never any consideration, or discussion even, of using tolls to help finance it.

They're calling it a public-private partnership because they're coming out with an RFP for private sector groups to enter into a "comprehensive development lease agreement to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the project." (see RFQ and link at the bottom)

Normally when the private sector is asked to finance a road project it means they'll raise capital based on a prospective toll revenue stream. But in the case of the Presidio Parkway Caltrans and associated state entities apparently have a huge bank full of money so they're proposing to make "availability payments" to the Developer out of state funds rather than collect tolls.

The developer will raise capital based on Caltrans contractual promise to make those "availability payments" year by year in the future.

Perhaps that is a more secure a basis for raising capital than the willingness of motorists to pay tolls?

Perhaps not?

Cost $653m/mile

Construction cost (not project cost) of the 2.6km (1.6 miles) of seven lane (4 lanes SB, 3 lanes NB) expressway is estimated at $1,045m or $387m/km, ($653m/mile), and $57m/lane-km ($93m/lane mile.)

California must be the only place in the world where they embark on a billion-dollar-plus road project and don't even discuss some user fees or tolls.

Unasked questions

Don't they, you wonder, have any legislators or pundits or plain ordinary people who say:

(1) why don't we ask the people who'll benefit from this nice new highway, the motorists who get the additional, wider, modern lanes, the smoother interchange ramps, and safer seismically improved bridges to pay some of the cost rather than put it all on future taxpayers?

(2) wouldn't a Presidio Parkway toll, varied by time of day, rather than free rides, help us to manage traffic flows, make motorists' trips less prone to backups and congestion, and reduce tailpipe emissions and all that good environmental stuff?

Anyway apparently they don't need to even discuss those kind of equity, efficiency and environmental issues when it comes to the Presidio Parkway. The beauty of the project has everyone quite carried away.  

We're not knocking it. From everything we read it's needed and the opportunity is sensibly being taken to add park space and reduce impacts with tunnels.

The Presidio, once a famous US Army base is now a national park and a wonderful recreational resource. It is also an established corridor for traffic approaching the Golden Gate Bridge from the south (State Route 1) and from downtown San Francisco to the east (US101).

Any road through the Presidio Park needs to have generous money spent on it to respect the history and the setting. It's a magnificent setting, the southern bayside approach to the Golden Gate.

Replaces Doyle Drive

The Presidio Parkway is a replacement of Doyle Drive, a 2.6km (1.6 mile) linking roadway presently, along with interchanges at each end where traffic splits or joins.

At each end the Parkway will transition to signalized arterial standard roadways, not expressway.

Existing Doyle Drive was built in 1937 and is substantially unchanged from then. Elevated sections consist of complex steel truss girders on foundations of doubtful strength. It is located in a 'liquefaction zone' making it especially liable to earthquake damage.

The road was built with 2x3 10ft (3m) travel lanes, no median, and no real shoulders. It hasn't changed substantially since construction - when T-model Fords were still around, and the most modern car was the bulbous Buick 8.

The permitted design of the Parkway has 3 lanes northbound to the bridge and 4 lanes southbound off the bridge, the extra lane so there can be a clean 2+ 2 lane split leading away from the bridge into a pair of surface arterials Marina Blvd and US101 (Richardson, Lombard). They will be modern 3.6m (12ft) wide lanes and there will be shoulders both sides and a grassed median.

40% is elevated or underground

Close to half the length will be underground (in two pairs of cut and cover tunnels of 260m and 310m) or elevated.

Funding as described for now is a mishmash - drawing on no fewer than eleven local, state and federal grant programs. The 'spin' is that this sheer multiplicity of funders constitutes a  "balanced funding strategy" - balanced between so many diverse funders that that no one accepts 'ownership' of this project, or responsibility.

'Imbalance' would apparently be some single organization accepting responsibility and funding the project, and taking the rap if they screwed up.

Caltrans does seem to be attempting to exercise some leadership despite the difficulty of extracting funds from ten other government entities.

And maybe by the time they get around to issuing an RFP they'll need some toll revenue to support this project?

Here's the text of a Notice of Intent to Issue a Request for Qualifications:

Project: Presidio Parkway Project (the "Project")
Major Work:
    Set forth in the Request for Qualifications ("RFQ")
Project Description:
California Department of Transportation ("Caltrans") and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) are the "Project Sponsors" for this public-private partnership and are responsible for the funding and planning of the Project.  The Project Sponsors anticipate that the Project will consist of replacing portions of the existing Doyle Drive facilities on Route 101 in the City of San Francisco, which serves as the south access to the Golden Gate Bridge, along the northern edge of the City of San Francisco, with a new six-lane parkway-type roadway and a southbound auxiliary lane, between the Park Presidio Interchange and the new Presidio access at Girard Road.  The Project will also include operating and maintaining all of the replaced Doyle Drive facilities.  

The sponsors seek to enter into a comprehensive development lease agreement with a private party (the "Developer") to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the Project.  Caltrans expects to compensate the Developer through an Availability Payment mechanism that may include other components described in the RFQ.  Further Project information is available at

The Project Sponsors reserve the right to change the scope of the Project and the approach to the delivery and funding of the Project in their sole discretion.

Notice of Intent to Issue:
Sponsors intend to issue the RFQ on or after February 1, 2010.  
The RFQ will be available on the following website:

Qualification Requirements:
    Set forth in the RFQ

Program Manager: Kome Ajise

Anticipated Schedule:*
RFQ Release Date:                 February 1, 2010
Statement of Qualifications Due Date:     March 1, 2010
Planned Shortlist Selection Date:         March 18, 2010

*Caltrans reserves the right to modify this schedule at any time in its sole discretion.

Contact Information:
    Attn.: Kome Ajise

TOLLROADSnews 2010-01-25

EDITOR'S NOTE: There are various errors in this article and more that needs to be written on the subject we've learned by responses to it, so we'll be running a follow-up article - hopefully about Feb 3. 2010-01-27 1200

see Update including corrections Feb 7:

Further Reading

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