California bill could result in more toll roads

| 8/4/2008

A bill in the California Senate is intended to make it easier to open toll roads in the state. Two more bills of note also address tolling.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, AB3021 calls for the creation of the California Transportation Financing Authority. The seven-member board would assist transportation agencies in obtaining financing – primarily through issuing bonds – to use tolls to pay for road work.

Legislative approval no longer would be needed on a road-by-road basis. Local agencies would be given the authority to charge tolls.

Highways that are tolled would have to have the option of toll-free lanes for use in the same corridor.

Another provision in the bill would allow for congestion pricing. It would allow for toll rates to change depending on the time of day and traffic conditions. The bill also would allow personal vehicles with one occupant to access carpool lanes for a fee.

Supporters acknowledge that the legislation isn’t a “silver bullet” that would solve all of the state’s transportation problems, but it is a useful tool.

Critics say they want nothing to do with possibly being forced to pay to drive on roads that now are free.

The bill – AB3021 – is in the Senate Appropriations Committee. If the bill emerges from the Senate, it would head back to the Assembly for changes to be considered before advancing to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.

A separate bill in the Appropriations Committee – AB1954 – would authorize the Riverside County Transportation Commission to operate two high-occupancy toll lanes, or HOT lanes, in both directions of Interstate 15. It would include congestion pricing.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, the bill would encompass the roadway stretching from the San Bernardino County line to the San Diego County line.

Jeffries said the HOT lanes would offer an alternative to drivers willing to pay the fee as well as provide an incentive for carpooling by offering a free or “steeply discounted rate.”

The Assembly has already approved it.

Another Senate-approved bill would establish the Otay Mesa East Toll Authority. The authority would be authorized to issue bonds and collect tolls to build state Route 11 and a new port of entry in San Diego County.

Sponsored by Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, the measure – SB1486 – is awaiting consideration in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor