Bay Area voters may get the chance next year to boost bridge tolls by as much as $3 to pay for more than $4 billion in regional transportation projects, including $580 million earmarked for Sonoma and Marin counties.
The potential funding would contribute to fixes for some of the North Bay’s most vexing roadway problems, including the Highway 101 Narrows in Novato and flood-prone stretches of Highway 37 across the top of San Pablo Bay.
The SMART commuter train also would get much of the money needed to extend service to Windsor under the spending plan fashioned by state lawmakers this week.
A majority of voters in all nine Bay Area counties would have to approve toll hikes on seven state-owned bridges — excluding the local district-owned Golden Gate Bridge — in order to generate funding for $4.2 billion in regional transportation projects.
North Bay counties would get 14 percent of the total revenue. BART would get the biggest chunk of funding at nearly $1 billion.
The funding plan is incorporated in Senate Bill 595, awaiting action by the state Senate and Assembly. If ratified and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the bill would set a vote in June or November 2018 on the proposed bridge toll boost.
“This is big news,” state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said Friday, calling the potential funding “the biggest shot in the arm for transportation improvement projects in recent history.”
The money is aimed at what McGuire called “the most significant heartburn” for North Bay motorists.
McGuire said he was involved in negotiations with Bay Area lawmakers over the spending plan through Thursday morning.
The bill must be approved by the Senate and Assembly and make it to Brown’s desk by mid-September. SB 595 is authored by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.
If voters approve the bridge toll boost, the specific amount of the toll hike would be determined by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
McGuire said a $3 increase would be needed to generate enough revenue to support bonds that would finance the $4.2 billion worth of projects.
Tolls on six of the state-owned bridges, including the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, are now $5. On the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge tolls vary from $4 to $6 depending on the time of day.
If the toll hike is approved by voters, money would become available in 2020-2021, McGuire said.
A legislative analyst’s report on SB 595 said residents of the East Bay counties of Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano pay 63 percent of tolls on the state bridges, while Marin residents pay 4 percent and Napa and Sonoma residents each pay 2 percent.
The proposed $40 million allocation for SMART would cover about 80 percent of the anticipated $53 million cost of extending the rail line from the Sonoma County Airport to downtown Windsor, said Farhad Mansourian, general manager of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit.
“Any time you have that much money, getting the rest is much easier,” he said.
If voters approve the toll increase next year, SMART should reach Windsor by late 2020, Mansourian said.
McGuire said extending SMART to Windsor has been a “top priority” for him since he was a Sonoma County supervisor. Providing that service is “a significant milestone for northern Sonoma County,” he said.
Senate Bill 595 and North Bay projects
Six North Bay transportation projects would receive a total of $580 million under a proposed bill floating a Bay Area ballot measure tied to a bridge toll increase of up to $3.*
Extending SMART to Windsor — $40 million
Widening the Highway 101 Narrows — $125 million
Elevating flood-prone sections of Highway 37 — $150 million
Improving the San Rafael Transit Center — $30 million
Addressing congestion at the Highway 101/580 interchange — $135 million
North Bay transit improvements — $100 million
*Funding does not cover the entire cost of some projects.
Source: State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg