Proposition RM2 - Bridge Toll Increase

Voter Guide
March 1, 2004
This measure appeared on the March 2004 ballot.

 

What it does

Regional Measure 2 (RM2) is a user fee increase presented to the voters of seven Bay Area counties that are connected by state-owned bridges. RM2 would raise all Bay Area bridge tolls except the Golden Gate Bridge by $1, to generate over $125 million a year for Bay Area transportation improvements. RM2 would implement a plan to fund specific transit projects with the goal of joining the region's bus, rail, and ferry systems into one seamless regional mass transit network, and to ease two major traffic bottlenecks. Because RM2 is a fee and not a tax, it requires a simple majority approval by voters of the combined seven counties. It does not need a majority in each county.

Background

In 2002, the California legislature looked at Bay Area traffic congestion and projected what is expected to happen over the next 20 years. The Bay Area's population is forecast to grow from 7 million to 8.5 million, and daily trips of all types (cars, transit, walking, and bicycling, for example) to increase even more--by 30%.

A study by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which manages funding for Bay Area transportation projects, found that 75% of transbay trips--the largest growth number of total trips--will be on the Bay Bridge, with morning congestion at the toll plaza expected to grow from four hours to nearly five hours. Forty-eight percent of morning commuters will be starting from San Francisco or San Mateo County.

To ease congestion, a State Senate committee concluded that the Bay Area's bridge corridors needed to be "beefed up," particularly with new mass transit, and that a toll increase was the most appropriate way to fund new projects.

What projects would be best? The legislature created an advisory committee of Bay Area stakeholders. The Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC), of which SPUR is an active member, was very involved in developing the list of projects. The initial project list was, of course, modified by the legislature. About 5% of the measure was kept for the legislature to spend as they wanted, which introduced a small--though controversial--discretionary layer. The final project list became law in 2003. If voters approve RM2, this Regional Traffic Relief Plan will be overseen the MTC.

Pros

Those who support this measure state:

  • The plan is balanced in favor of transit in the Central Bay, which benefits the inner ring of cities, including San Francisco, which already have the greatest public investment.
  • The plan's focus on regional needs and connections is exactly the kind of planning that SPUR advocates.
  • RM2 sets performance standards and can deny funds or shift funds from poorly performing projects.
  • This plan is specifically designed to get commuters to San Francisco out of their cars and onto transit, making our local streets less crowded and safer while reducing the demand for parking.
  • If a project shows itself to be not cost effective or if a project is delayed past a certain point, there are mechanisms for moving the money around to the next priority in line.
  • The Bay Area's toll bridges are much cheaper than similar facilities in other major metropolitan areas in the U.S. Many New York bridges now cost $7. This modest fee increase is something we need to do, both to make drivers more aware of the true social costs of driving, and to generate funds for transportation infrastructure in a state with incredible strains on its budget.

Cons

Those who oppose this measure state:

  • The legislature put pork into RM2--expensive transit projects like BART to Warm Springs that will have low ridership, and the Caldecott Tunnel expansion that will encourage more cars and more congestion.
  • Because RM2 is taxing drivers, we owe them either congestion relief in toll bridge corridors, or cost-effective transit relief in those corridors. Some projects--most obviously a San Francisco to South San Francisco ferry--probably don't do this.
  • RM2 shorts funding for Muni operations, although Muni carries nearly half the Bay Area's daily transit passengers.

SPUR's analysis

RM2 makes regional improvements, and improvements to the Bay Bridge, North Bay, and South Bay corridors. The majority of new investment would be for transit.

Major regional improvements include:

  • $150 million to help fund a new Transbay Terminal and downtown Caltrain Extension in San Francisco
  • $143 million to begin seismic strengthening of the BART transbay tube
  • Significantly increasing ferry service from Oakland Alameda and Vallejo and initiating service from Berkeley and to South San Francisco
  • Massive expansion of cost-effective transbay buses to downtown, and creation of a regional express bus system and bus rapid transit in the East Bay
  • $42 million to implement Translink, allowing customers to carry one transit fare card which could be used regionwide
  • Development of a plan to minimize transfer times at key transit hubs, to make trips faster and more reliable
  • $22.5 million to improve bike and pedestrian access to regional transit stations, including $2.5 million for City CarShare sites at transit hubs that would reduce car trips across bridges
  • $20 million to help implement real-time information systems, so customers know when their transit vehicle is coming
  • $0.5 million to promote to employers and employees the existing tax-saving opportunities of using transit
  • $6.5 million for a regional rail master plan

Specific projects will benefit the Bay Bridge corridor [see sidebar: How RM2 benefits the San Francisco/Oakland area], and the North Bay and South Bay corridors.

To ease traffic bottlenecks, RM2 extends to the Carquinez Bridge the existing eastbound I-80 carpool lane from the Bay Bridge. It puts $50.5 million towards a fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel.

Importantly, RM2 requires that before a project receives funding, it must demonstrate its cost-effectiveness and that it will meet performance measures for increased ridership.

Voter initiatives such as RM2 usually only fund new construction, and shortchange funding for operations of the transit. RM2 provides annual funding to ensure long-term operation of all new services. About 38% in total is for transit operations. In turn, the operator must provide an independent audit to verify that the project meets performance standards. RM2 also permits the MTC to cut funds from projects that perform poorly, and program it to more cost-effective transit operations in that corridor.

While RM2 funds some projects that SPUR likely wouldn't favor (the BART extension to Warm Springs and the Caldecott Tunnel expansion) the net balance is strongly favorable. The package of transportation improvements is tilted towards making public transit a viable option for more trips--which is, in fact the only way to truly solve the region's transportation problems. San Francisco, as the most transit-dependent part of the region, benefits directly from the improvements to overall transit capacity in the region.

It is doubtful that anyone could have gotten a substantially better plan through the state legislature.

How RM2 Benefits the San Francisco/Oakland Area

  • $30 million to help fund Muni Third Street light rail
  • $143 million to help fund seismic retrofit of the BART transbay tube
  • $150 million to help fund the Transbay Terminal and Caltrain downtown extension
  • $84 million for ferries and environmental work at the Ferry Building
  • $10 million to extend the historic streetcar E-Line
  • $22 million for regional bus service in the Bay Bridge, San Mateo, and Dumbarton corridors
  • $3 million to improve connections between BART and Muni at the Embarcadero and Civic Center stations
  • $12.6 million annually for commute ferry operations between San Francisco and Alameda, Oakland, Harbor Bay, Berkeley, Albany, and South San Francisco
  • $30 million for a BART connector to Oakland Airport
  • $50.5 million to help fund a fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel
  • $65 million for AC Transit rapid bus service on the International Blvd./Telegraph Ave. corridor
  • $10 million for safety improvements on I-880

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Regional Measure 2