all Your Friends to Vote this March!
Pass RM-2 to Make Life Better for Me and You
Toll Measure Puts Regional Quality of Life on the
idiocy of the Bay Area transit status quo in all its glory.
Regional Measure Two (RM-2) on the March ballot raises tolls by a
scanty $1 but nonetheless is a first important step in facing up
to the problem while providing for solutions.
Bay Area voters who go to the polls on
March 2 will be able to take direct action to expand the ferry system,
promote vibrant waterfront communities, and embrace the region’s
greatest natural resource. Regional Measure 2, the Regional Traffic Relief
Plan, puts the very quality of Bay Area life on the ballot, laying out a
detailed strategy for improving mobility, slowing the trend toward sprawl,
and loosening the congestion stranglehold that is already impeding the Bay
Area’s pursuit of happiness—and will only get worse unless corrective
action is taken.
Combining new ferry, rail, and bus
services with select highway improvements and bicycle/pedestrian projects,
the plan would be financed through a $1 toll increase on the region’s
seven state-owned toll bridges, bringing tolls to $3 per car on the Bay
Bridge and the Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton,
Richmond-San Rafael, and San Mateo-Hayward bridges. The plan—which would
raise about $125 million a year—would not affect the current $5 per car
toll on the Golden Gate Bridge, which is owned and operated by the Golden
Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District.
Ezra Rapport, an aide to East Bay state
Senator Don Perata, explains that the plan’s broad scope reflects the
region-wide impact of traffic congestion. "The plan accomplishes
three separate goals: adding new transit options in the transbay
corridors, ensuring seamless transit connections around the Bay Area, and
delivering congestion relief at chokepoints like the Caldecott Tunnel, the
Cordelia Junction, and the 101/Sir Francis Drake interchange."
The Bay Area can’t wage a serious
fight against traffic congestion until people have legitimate transit
options. This plan delivers the options. It puts rail all around the Bay,
connects the transit services to one another, and ties it all together
Robust growth projections for the Bay
Area over the next couple of decades helped spawn the Regional Traffic
Relief Plan. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the
Bay Area’s population is expected to swell from about 7 million today to
some 8.5 million by 2025, fueling a 30 percent increase in travel
throughout the region, and a 50 percent increase in the critical transbay
bottlenecks. Add it all up and the projections point to a whopping
increase in traffic congestion region wide. Not exactly a winning recipe
for improving the quality of our lives, the economy or the environment.
Way Overdue Toll Boost
While few motorists are eager to shell
out an extra buck each time they reach the tollbooth, many are
philosophical. "$3 is a bargain when you look at the Golden Gate
Bridge or look around the country," said Mike Skowronek, a former
Brooklyn, New York resident who now lives in Berkeley. "Drivers are
paying $6 or even $8 tolls for bridges and tunnels in New York."
But what exactly would the extra dollar
pay for? Quite a lot as it turns out.
Ferry Services Big Winners
Expanded ferry service is a key part of
the plan, which essentially would implement the vision outlined by the San
Francisco Bay Area Water Transit Authority (WTA) when it was established
by the state Legislature in 1999. The Regional Traffic Relief Plan calls
for buying new environmentally friendly vessels and providing operating
funds for new routes linking San Francisco with Berkeley/Albany and South
Francisco, as well as more frequent service on the existing
Alameda/Oakland and Vallejo routes. The plan also includes up to $48
million for spare vessels and improvements to San Francisco’s Ferry
Building, $28 million for a new intermodal bus/ferry hub in Vallejo, $3
million a year for the Water Transit Authority’s system needs, up to $5
million for a study on the potential use of San Quentin as an intermodal
ferry/bus/train terminal, and up to $1 million to study ways to boost
ferry ridership at the Richmond terminal.
"The ferry investments alone pay
triple dividends," says Steve Castleberry, the WTA’s new chief
executive officer. "They make it easier for commuters to get out of
their cars and onto a boat. They promote regional clean air efforts. And
they provide a catalyst for reinvigorating waterfront neighborhoods."
New ferry services will not only add
luster to established regional gems like San Francisco’s newly
redeveloped Ferry Building and Oakland’s Jack London Square, but add new
jewels to the Bay Area crown. "Bustling ferry terminals help create
dynamic community hubs," explains Castleberry. "The comeback of
Vallejo’s downtown waterfront has gone hand in hand with the success of
the Vallejo Baylink ferry. Similar success on a Richmond line would
magnify the great work Richmond has done with its waterfront. The ferry
terminal in Alameda will enhance the rebirth of the Alameda Point
district, and we’ll see some of the same kinds of spillover at Oyster
Point in South San Francisco and at the Berkeley Marina—to say nothing
of the spectacular opportunities if the San Quentin site is
Boost to Bay Economy
But there’s more than ferries to the
Regional Traffic Relief Plan. The plan includes a lot of land-based
transit investments as well. Some of the biggest items on the list include
new commuter rail service across a rehabilitated Dumbarton rail bridge,
the first leg in the proposed BART extension to Silicon Valley, a BART
connector to Oakland Airport, a Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District
extension from San Rafael to the ferry terminal at Larkspur or San
Quentin, and redevelopment of San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal,
connecting a downtown Caltrain extension with AC Transit, BART, Muni,
SamTrans, and Golden Gate Transit.
To connect all the transit improvements
together, Measure 2 includes funds for the region-wide integration of the
TransLink® smart card system, allowing transit passengers to use a single
fare card on any Bay Area transit system. The Regional Traffic Relief Plan
gives drivers a break as well, with funds used to upgrade the Interstate
80/680 interchange in Cordelia, improve access to the Larkspur Landing
ferry terminal by reconfiguring the U.S. 101 interchange in Greenbrae,
finance a fourth bore for the Caldecott Tunnel, add a new carpool lane on
eastbound Interstate 80 from Highway 4 to the Carquinez Bridge, and
modernize on- and off-ramps on Interstate 880 in Oakland.
The plan also includes $22 million to
improve bicycle and pedestrian access to regional transit stations. This
money would pay for bike paths, sidewalks, traffic signal improvements,
better signage, and secure bicycle parking.
Only Spoilsports and the Selfish Demur
Noting that the measure required
approval by the state Legislature—and signing by ousted Gov. Gray Davis—before
qualifying for Bay Area ballots, only spoilsports offer a dimmer view of
the Regional Traffic Relief Plan. They suggest, "The spending plan
for the money from this toll increase was written by politicians, not
transportation planners, and will just go to fund pork barrel projects for
politicians who love nothing more than cutting ribbons with one hand while
collecting campaign contributions with the other."
There’s no denying the political
bloodlines in Measure 2’s pedigree. Measure 2’s roots go back to 2002,
when the Perata-led Senate Select Committee on Bay Area Transportation
began taking a close look at regional travel forecasts and concluded that
a toll increase was the most appropriate way to pay for the projects
needed to ward off total gridlock. But the pork charges don’t stand up
to scrutiny. The solons actually deserve some credit for not only being
able to see the brakelights through the fog but for the collaborative
approach they took in devising the plan.
Step one was the formation of a public
advisory committee—which included Bay Area transit agencies, Caltrans,
and a raft of business, environmental, and social equity groups—to come
up with the expenditure plan. Committee members graded project proposals
on numerous factors including impact on congestion, cost-effectiveness,
environmental impacts, land-use opportunities, and safety and social
Sensible Plan for Operating Costs
Another uncommon characteristic of
Measure 2 is that it not only pays for new ferries, trains, buses, and
rails extensions—it pays for the pilots, drivers, mechanics, and
dispatchers needed to run them, too. The Regional Traffic Relief Plan
provides up to 38 percent of annual revenues to transit agencies to
operate the new services.
The politicians and the planners finally
did it right. The combination of capital and operating funds makes this a
real regional plan, not just a political porkfest.
Implementation of the Regional Traffic
Relief Plan would be overseen by the Metropolitan Transportation
Commission (MTC), which is the transportation planning, financing, and
coordinating agency for the Bay Area, and also serves as the Bay Area Toll
Authority. Recognizing that some projects may not work as well in real
life as they do in planners’ models, Measure 2 requires MTC to adopt
performance measures related to ridership and farebox recovery before
allocating any funds for transit operations. The measure also allows MTC
to change a project’s funding levels or even reassign funds to another
project in the same corridor.
"None of these projects will turn
into a fiscal sinkhole," explains MTC executive Randall
Rentschler."The oversight provisions have real teeth, and that gives
us a mechanism to change course if things don’t work out as
It’s up to Bay Area voters, of course,
to decide whether the Regional Traffic Relief Plan is put into action.
Which way the ballot winds will blow remains a mystery. But the Bay Area’s
livability is directly tied to mobility. And if we don’t start doing
something about our congestion problems, we’ll be going nowhere fast.