Presidio Parkway WAS discussed for tolling but pols said taxpayer must carry (CORRECTION)

February 7, 2010

We wrote January 26 that toll financing was never discussed for the $1,045m Presideo Parkway, one of the approaches to the Golden Gate Bridge. That's because an official at Caltrans emailed us in response to a query about why tolls hadn't been discussed: "No discussion about tolls and none anticipated." We were misled.

Kome Ajise of the Caltrans Public Private Partnership program in Sacramento says tolls were part of an application for a federal congestion pricing grant application several years ago that fizzled out. There was discussion of tolls at that time.

However state law now insists that taxpayers pick up the tab for the Presidio Parkway project or Doyle Drive Reconstruction as it was then known. State law effectively forbids tolling in a roundabout way saying that no P3 lease agreement may affect, alter or supersede a Nov 2008 agreement (Memorandum of Understanding) between the Golden Gate Bridge and regional transportation authorities (MTC and SF County Transportation Authority) against tolls.

See p21 section 's' of Senate Bill 4 Ch 2 approved by the Governor Feb 20 2009.

Copy of the bill with Ajise's highlighting:

Bridge financing wanted

Ajise tells us the department is interested in a financing element in a P3 in order to provide some "bridge finance" between the time expenditures need to be made and the many committed taxing authorities actually generate funds to fulfill their commitments.

see our original report Jan 26:

Historian Louise Dyble followed the project

Louise Dyble, a history professor at Michigan Technological University who followed this project says in 2007 and 2008 there was lengthy and heated local discussion of different financing methods.

She got involved. She says Marin County politicians from the north side of the bridge - Nancy Pelosi political territory - insisted on tax financing rather than tolls without really engaging in an argument on the merits.

Dyble in a letter submitted to the San Francisco Chronicle Aug 2007 wrote a strong case for tolls, a large slab of which follows:

"More than simply a means of raising funds, tolls can be a powerful tool for San Francisco transportation engineers to manage traffic in one of the city's most vulnerable neighborhoods. At this preliminary stage, San Francisco officials are hoping to maximize their potential to reduce congestion and pollution. With current technologies, this can be done without adding toll booths or any expensive infrastructure; drivers would not even have to slow down. As a matter of fact, chances would be much better that they could enjoy a brisk 45 mile per hour pace through lovely scenery.

"Less enjoyable but more important, drivers will be much, much, safer on the new Doyle Drive paid for by these tolls. As it is, Doyle Drive is a death trap, its design essentially unchanged since the time of the Model-T, and it lacks shoulders or barriers separating opposing traffic. In the early 1970s it was declared 'the most dangerous road in America' by Golden Gate Bridge officials. Now we know that if it's not the most dangerous, it is indeed one of the very worst. That it made it through Loma Prieta does not mean that it won't become the next disaster area during the next big quake.

"No one has more to gain from this proposition than Marin County commuters. The well-heeled North Bay residents who choose to drive across the bridge every day will enjoy a safe, easy trip for a relatively small fee. At least some of their expense will be offset by better parking facilities in the city, paid for by toll money. Those who work in the city but can't easily afford the luxury of driving will keep Golden Gate bus patronage up. Hopefully, the bridge district will respond by reinstating some of the routes they have been paring back so brutally over the last few years. And, some of the Doyle Drive toll money will go toward expanding the parking facilities at Marin ferry terminals.

"Let's face it, the money has to come from somewhere. Caltrans has been in charge of the roadway since the 1940s and has yet to tackle the project, partially because of the reluctance of San Franciscans to risk more traffic congestion; this proposal addresses that concern and offers many other benefits. A well-managed toll will fund a safe Doyle Drive and improve traffic in the process."


Dyble says that the arrangement that seems to be emerging for Presidio Parkway is "opaque and convoluted like most of Schwarzenegger's plans for P3s."


She  recently published a book, "Paying the Toll: Local Power, Regional Politics, and the Golden Gate Bridge" with Penn Press, and is working on a recent history of turnpikes and toll roads in the United States, examining the politics of tolls and political ideology.

TOLLROADSnews 2010-02-07

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