Mercury News: Will voters curb traffic with a $3 toll bump?
By Erin Baldassari
Faced with freeways that seemingly double as parking lots and BART cars that mimic sardine cans, voters in all nine Bay Area counties on Tuesday will decide whether to dig into their pockets to help pay for a suite of transportation projects aimed at curbing traffic congestion and easing long commutes.
If approved, Regional Measure 3 would raise tolls on all seven state-owned bridges by $3 over six years, not including the Golden Gate, raising an estimated $4.45 billion over the next decade for capital projects and roughly $60 million annually to support transit operations.
That money will help pay for nearly three dozen transportation projects, including money to partially fund new BART cars so the agency can add capacity by running longer trains, the four-station BART extension to San Jose, a Caltrain extension into downtown San Francisco, new toll lanes on freeways throughout the Bay Area, more frequent ferry service and new boats, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and several interchange improvements, among others.
Built into Regional Measure 3 is the creation of two oversight agencies: a committee comprised of two representatives from each of the nine counties to make sure the funds are being spent appropriately, and a new Office of the Inspector General at BART. BART’s governing board will nominate a list of three finalists, one of whom will be appointed by the governor, to investigate fraud, waste and inefficiencies, lead audits and recommend practices to improve service to riders.
The members of the oversight committee will be appointed by the nine county boards of supervisors and can serve up to two, four-year terms. And, thanks to new legislation signed into law on Friday, those members can’t sit on the MTC, which is in charge of distributing the toll funds.
“When Bay Area commuters are fronting the costs, it is important that their money is spent efficiently and effectively,” said Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, who authored the recently-enacted legislation. “Proper oversight will help keep MTC accountable and empower voters with the relevant information necessary to make an informed decision.”