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BATA wants $5 tolls to fund Antioch, Dumbarton Bridge retrofit

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  • 12/17 Contra Costa Times
    Published Wednesday, December 17, 2008, by the Contra Costa Times Bridge agency calls for toll increases to pay for Antioch, Dumbarton seismic retrofits The
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 19, 2008
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      Published Wednesday, December 17, 2008, by the Contra Costa Times

      Bridge agency calls for toll increases to pay for Antioch, Dumbarton
      seismic retrofits

      The Antioch Bridge, connecting Contra Costa and Solano counties,
      needs about $313 million in retrofitting.

      By Denis Cuff
      Contra Costa Times

      Tolls on seven state bridges in the Bay Area should be raised to $5
      per car and car pool drivers should lose their free ride because the
      Antioch and Dumbarton bridges need $950 million in improvements to
      protect against earthquakes, regional bridge operators said Tuesday.

      Exactly when, how and who would raise the tolls is yet to be worked
      out, but bridge experts suggested extra money may be needed in time
      to start retrofits on the two bridges in mid-2010.

      The Antioch Bridge between Contra Costa and Solano counties needs
      about $313 million in strengthening, and the Dumbarton Bridge
      connecting Alameda and San Mateo counties needs about $637 million,
      according to a three-year joint study released Wednesday by the Bay
      Area Toll Authority and Caltrans.

      "There is never a good time to be starting the conversation about a
      toll increase ... especially in a recession," Steve Heminger,
      executive director of the toll authority told his board in a meeting
      in Oakland. "But we need to protect the safety of the people using
      our bridges."

      The two bridges are the newest ones in the Bay Area, but a review of
      the latest information on earthquakes has shown both structures are
      vulnerable in an earthquake-prone region, said Rick Land, Caltrans
      chief engineer.

      To protect the structures, Caltrans would install bearings to act
      as shock absorbers, allowing the bridge roadway and the support
      structure to move in opposite directions during an earthquake.

      Caltrans also recommends strengthening the superstructure of each
      bridge.

      Contracts for the seismic retrofits might be awarded in 2010 and the
      work finished in 2012 on the smaller Antioch Bridge, and 2013 on the
      Dumbarton Bridge.

      Land and Heminger said the retrofit cost estimates were preliminary
      and will become firmer when Caltrans completes design work.

      The seismic work was not the only reason to consider the increases,
      Heminger and others at the bridge authority said.

      Toll money -- the mother's milk of bridge improvements -- has fallen
      by $30 million a year from expectations because of an unprecedented
      five-year decline in traffic on the seven state-operated bridges. An
      independent agency runs the Golden Gate. At the same time, car pools
      that cross the bridge free have increased rapidly, as have the number
      of BART riders going under the Bay instead of driving over it.

      While transit officials say they are happy to have more car pools
      and BART riders, the trend has slashed toll revenue available for
      retrofits.

      The economic downtown and national credit crisis also has increased
      interest rates the Toll Authority pays on its debts, Heminger said.
      Toll authority managers recommended three options for toll increases,
      each raising the basic auto toll from $4 to $5 but proposing
      different tolls for car pools and multi-axle trucks. The options are:

      * Truck tolls increase by $1, and car pools would pay $3.
      * Trucks pay $3 per axle and car pools $2.
      * Trucks pay $5 per axle but rush hour car pools would stay free.

      Several toll authority board members said it would be fair to start
      making car pool users pay.

      "Car pools should share in the costs because they will share in the
      benefits of having safer, stronger bridges," said Federal Glover, a
      Contra Costa County supervisor on the toll authority.

      Many toll authorities elsewhere in the nation charge car pools a
      toll in rush hour, bridge operators said.


      Reach Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or dcuff@...
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