Simitian, Siegel won’t back toll hike

This Post originally published this story on April 23.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

Regional Measure 3, the bridge toll hike on the June ballot that would raise tolls across seven state-owned bridges in the Bay Area, hasn’t attracted the support of a couple local political heavyweights.

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian of Palo Alto and Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel both said they don’t support the measure, which would raise bridge tolls by $3 over the next seven years to between $8 and $9.

“I told the folks (the committee behind RM3) that I can’t support it. I think it is fundamentally unfair,” Simitian told the Post. Simitian pointed out that Santa Clara County voters raised their sales tax by a half-cent in 2016 for transportation projects, and the Legislature raised the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon. Simitian said he favored both of those increases.

“But this is a bridge too far,” he said, aware of the pun.

Simitian said he remembers how a decade ago it cost $1 to get across the Bay and if RM3 passes, it would go to $9 on the Bay Bridge by 2025 and $8 on other bridges including the Dumbarton and San Mateo.

The measure will go to voters in Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties, and would pass with a simple majority. The money would be used to finance almost $4.5 billion in highway and transit improvements.

Those improvements include upgrades to relieve congestion in the Dumbarton Bridge corridor, new BART cars, extending BART to Santa Clara and Caltrain to downtown San Francisco, expanding Muni’s transit vehicle fleet in San Francisco, more frequent ferries and trans-Bay buses, interchange improvements in the East Bay, more highway express lanes, a direct freeway connector from northbound Highway 101 in Marin County to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, improvements to Highway 37 and extending the new SMART rail system to Windsor and Healdsburg.

State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, authored Senate Bill 595, which passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last fall.

Not enough benefits locally

Siegel said he opposes the toll hike because the money would cost residents of northern Santa Clara County without paying for projects that would help them.

“There are things in other counties that may be worthwhile, but I, (Mountain View Councilman) John McAlister and (Cupertino Vice Mayor) Rod Sinks are concerned that once again, the money is going to projects that don’t address our commute problem in North County,” Siegel told the Post. “Basically our cities were not given an opportunity to suggest how the money might be spent. We have this ongoing issue.”

Eighty percent of the proceeds from sales tax measures passed in 2000 and 2008 will go to extend BART to San Jose and Santa Clara, which Siegel said was not necessarily bad, but doesn’t deal with the traffic on highways 85, 280, 101 and 237.

‘Uncomfortable with the measure’

“Basically, there’s almost no investment in transit that would serve the routes that people are taking to work in Cupertino, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto, and so that’s why I’m not supporting it,” Siegel said. “I haven’t come out to tell people to vote no, but I’m really uncomfortable with the measure.”

Siegel said half of his discomfort comes from the amount of money, and the other half is the fact that cities in North County weren’t asked what they wanted to see on the measure.

“It was an inside deal, and so VTA made recommendations without asking the VTA board,” Siegel said.

Siegel also opposes one of the projects, express lanes on Highway 101, because he said they discriminate against drivers who can’t afford an extra toll and don’t adequately discourage driving alone.

“That’s not transit. Widening roadways is not what we need. What we need is ways to get people out of traffic,” Siegel said.

He said his theory is that most drivers will pay money, either with a gas tax or a toll, to fund transit — not to use public transit themselves, but to get other drivers off the road and improve traffic.

Siegel also sees public transit as most effective when it doesn’t rely on the fare box — the cheaper it is to use with subsidies from employers or the government, the more likely riders will use it.

Carl Guardino’s role in this

Last month, Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman, San Francisco Planning and Urban Research President and CEO Gabe Metcalf and Silicon Valley Leadership Group President and CEO Carl Guardino published an op-ed piece in support of the measure in the San Francisco Business Times.

Siegel said that the tech company lobbyist Guardino’s support of the measure shows that big employers are trying to “externalize their transportation costs” by passing them on to the general population.

“Some of us believe that the right way to pay for transit is to tax the employers bringing traffic to the area,” Siegel said. “We’re paying for the cost of having a lot of people work at our tech companies, and I’m not angry at them, but that’s an argument for funding transit from the companies that are growing.”

6 Comments

  1. A few years ago they got rid of the toll on the Coranado Bridge in San Diego. They paid off the debt of building the bridge and ended the poll. That should be the thinking here. But instead they’re going to soak people who use these bridges for things they’ll probably never use.

  2. At what point is a toll too high? It’s gone from $1 to now $6 …. and maybe if this wins, $9. And if the voters go for this, they’ll be back soon with another increase. There ought to be a ceiling or some kind or inflation index. Before long it will be $20.

  3. I’ll be voting “no” on this one. I remember how MTC wasted toll money to build a new Taj Mahal headquarters in San Francisco when the one they had in Oakland was perfectly good. Why reward this behavior with more of our hard-earned cash?

  4. Gas Tax and DMV increases. If this passes I will no longer use any of the bridges.Why are politicians making the economy worse and things so unaffordable.
    They need to all be removed from office.

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