New Bay Bridge construction could benefit commuters

by Tenzin Shakya, staff writer

A plan to link commuters between East Bay and the Peninsula by building an additional bridge has been proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to help improve bay crossing.

Photo Credit Adb Golub

The Bay Area Toll Authority‘s oversight committee voted Nov. 10 approving up to $400,000 to conduct a new study about building a separate bridge over the bay. The new span will be located between the Bay Bridge and San Mateo Bridge.

Funding for the studies will come from revenues on the toll bridges that are set aside for bridge rehabilitation work.

Committee members expressed doubts about whether a new bay bridge would benefit commuters, which would drain toll funds, affect the bay’s environment, and possibly increase traffic congestion.

Despite the concerns, they approved the study which would explore the possibilities of improving traffic and transit commute.

In a memo to the oversight committee this month, Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission said, “Enough time has passed since the last study to take a fresh look at the need and opportunities between the East Bay and the San Francisco Peninsula.”

Studies about building a new span of the bridge were last conducted in 1991 and 2002.

According to the 2002 study the project was supposed to improve commute across the Bay, but was estimated to cost $8.2 billion.

Hemminger also noted that, “The study found critical mass lacking in both travel demand and political support for the higher cost options.”

Phase I of the study will last six months and will be conducted by Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations and Management, a Los Angeles-based professional technical and management support service. The company will also reevaluate the costs to build the new bridge.

If the first phase succeeds then Phase II could take up to an additional 18 months.

“Crossing over the Bay Bridge has been one of the worst experiences for the past three years,” said Amy Luangrath, 25, psychology major at SF State. “There is no need to study building another bridge, instead they need to focus on fixing this bridge,” she said.

Luangrath lives in the East Bay and crosses the Bay Bridge four times a week to get to school. “The prices have been sky rocketing for years now but the experience has not been any better than before,” she said.

Since July, the Bay Area Toll Authority increased toll fees to $6 during peak commute hours. Only westbound commuters are required to pay toll fees. One of the possibilities the San Francisco County Transportation Authority explored in their latest congestion management study, involved a $3 charge for people entering and exiting the city.

MTC considered commuters like Luangrath, who struggle with traffic and rising bridge costs, in their 2002 study by experimenting with the idea of not only another bridge, but also a new rail and BART tunnel.

Since 2001, San Francisco has been looking at several options for congestion pricing by charging commuters higher prices during peak hours, including the weekends.

One possibility explored by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority in their latest study consisted of commuters paying $3 for entrance and $3 to exit the city during 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. or 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. That means people traveling to the city five days a week could pay up to $130 per month.

However, Tilly Chan, deputy director of planning at SFCTA said as the city grows, there is a need for these types of studies.

It would explore new strategies to decrease traffic, reduce and manage demand while generating fee revenue.

“Damn $130 a month, I for sure won’t drive back and forth as much,” said Christian Garcia, SF State student majoring in kinesiology. Garcia said he would ride BART more but “it would be nicer if it ran 24 hours a day and expanded through out the Bay Area with less stops.”

Rentschler said the study would also look into making bay crossing better for drivers by including the option to increase BART and other mass transit capabilities.

“I think people are frustrated from being in traffic,” Rentschler said. “We are trying to look at things like Bay Crossing, not just a single structure but a lot of different possibilities to make bay crossing better.”

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