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BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Commuters who use University Avenue in East Palo Alto may have to pay to use the road if city officials decide to continue down the path of a toll for the road.
East Palo Alto’s City Council last week discussed ways to reduce and manage traffic in the town, and one of the options discussed was whether to have a type of toll, called congestion pricing, on University Avenue as a way to deter commuters.
Congestion pricing is when drivers would pay to use the road during certain times — such as during rush hour.
East Palo Alto officials have not picked which option they would like to pursue, but many obstacles still stand in the way of being able to enact such a plan.
At the council’s Oct. 8 meeting, most council members said they want Public Works Director Kamal Fallaha and his team to keep looking into whether charging drivers to use University is a possibility.
One big hoop the council would have to jump through is getting the backing of a state legislator to take the issue to Sacramento.
According to consultant Michelle Hunt, local agencies cannot charge for people to use a public road unless given permission by the legislature.
Getting support outside East Palo Alto
Councilman Carlos Romero said he’s been told by some at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that it’s unlikely the city will get a legislator behind the tolls.
Romero also said he wants to hear from Menlo Park and maybe Palo Alto on the toll roads.
But Vice Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones commented that it’s possible to get support for a toll road in East Palo Alto since San Francisco was able to get legislative support for a toll road for tourists on Lombard Street.
The Lombard Street toll proposal made it through both the state Senate and Assembly, but was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom, who said the tolls would create “social equity issues,” saying that access to the street ought to be available to all.
Wallace-Jones pointed out that the Lombard toll request was brought forth by residents being irritated by tourists and that the congestion there is seasonal, while the congestion that East Palo Altans face is every day.
Romero questioned whether the city needs to charge a toll to everyone or if it should only be for commuters during rush hour.
Developer also suggested tolls
This is not the first time toll roads have been discussed this year. Developer Bill Uhrig brought up the topic at a May 30 community meeting for his 1.3 million square foot office project at 2020 Bay Road. Uhrig brought up toll roads as part of his response as to how to deal with traffic his project would create.
The topic was also broached at a July 17 Public Works and Transportation Committee meeting where many of the commissioners said they want residents to be able to bypass the tolls.
Fallaha and Hunt’s team will bring back more information about converting University into a toll road and other traffic fixes, such as a bus only lane down University and adding traffic cops to the city, in December.